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article imageOp-Ed: Baseball playoffs reveal pitfalls of over-reliance on technology

By Nathan Salant     Oct 17, 2015 in Sports
Toronto - If baseball was smart in the way Apple Computer and Barack Obama were smart, it would endeavor to ensure that the extraordinary opportunity presented by the events of October 2015 was not frittered away.
The postseason games of 2015 have demonstrated quite clearly that Major League Baseball needs to find more officials who intimately understand the rules of the sport and needs to eliminate the use of instant replay in live games.
That 53-minute delay of a baseball playoff game while six umpires on the field and four or eight staffing the league commissioner’s office in New York tried to figure out what to do when a catcher’s throw back to the pitcher strikes the next batter’s bat and bounces in the infield was too painful to ever have to witness again.
Baseball has a rule to cover such an eventuality but no one seemed to realize that until an excruciating amount of time had passed.
It’s simple: the ball is live and runners are free to advance if they can.
But seeing the umpires talking among themselves, apparently clueless, and then taking time to re-watch the play over and over on video even though it was apparent what had happened, demonstrated that they did not know the rules well enough and that the video technology available in every stadium is not good enough to ensure that mistakes are prevented.
And if mistakes cannot be prevented with the use of replay, which has undermined the credibility of on-field umpires since the current video regime was implemented in 2008, then it should not be used at all during the course of major league games.
Of course, television broadcasters would still be free to use it to illustrate action on the field and replays could still be shown on the video screens at ballparks.
But only after the fact, for reference — not to change the outcome of any plays.
Because the outcome of Game 5 of the American League Division Series was obviously at stake when the throw from Toronto catcher Russell Martin deflected off the bat of Texas batter Shin-Soo Choo and bounced down the third-base line, enabling surprisingly alert baserunner Rougned Odor to score from third in the top of the seventh of what was then a 2-2 tie.
Much argument ensued. The umpires may have been confused by the fact that the ball thrown by Martin had bounced off Choo’s bat and thought they should treat it as a foul ball — so they tried to send Odor back to third.
Many more arguments ensued, including a furious reaction from the 45,000 fans at Toronto’s Rogers Centre ballpark, who began throwing garbage onto the field.
Much argument continued, but the umpires figured this one out and allowed the go-ahead run to score.
The Rangers team then fell apart in the last of the seventh, allowing the first three Toronto players to reach base on infield errors and misplaying a popup before Jose Bautista cracked a long three-run homer (no doubt, this time) that put the Blue Jays up for good, 6-3.
Of course, there still were two dugout-emptying incidents to come before the game, and with it the Texas season, finally ended.
Baseball is not really a lot more complicated than it was when we played as kids, even if today’s ballplayers earn a bit more than we did on the community ball fields.
It’s still about balls and strikes and safes or outs, and the umpires still have to control the game and not allow argument skirmishes to break out all over the field.
By eliminating instant replay, baseball will take a huge step toward restoring the proper balance between winning and sportsmanship that has always been one of the more-extraordinary aspects of the baseball experience but is now in danger of being forgotten.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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