For someone who has lived and died with the Yankees since 1977 (am I really that old?), I am actually thrilled that I didn't get to see the second half of yesterday's Yankees game as I was invited to attend a number of important events last night.
My Yankees game ended with Aaron Hicks' home run and the Yankees leading 6-3.
I wish it ended that way for the Yankees.
I was at a social gathering with some great people when I saw the Indians' game winning hit on a television across the room. I had just arrived at the event. I knew nothing about the grand slam, lifting Sabathia while he was rolling, Jay Bruce's homer, or any of the other events that transpired along the way to the heartbreaking loss. 90-minutes later, I was home and on-line reading the recaps of the game, seeing the highlights (low lights?) on Twitter, listening to the post game interviews and analysis...
And, today I woke up to more of the same.
Yes, it seems very clear that Joe Girardi, for whatever reason, played a huge role in the Yankees loss by not challenging a hit-by-pitch call in the bottom of the 6th inning. That was the game changing moment. Girardi's indecision seems inexplicable. But, I'm not writing today to analyze that indecision or offer criticism. Instead, I want to get at the root of something deeper that's bothered me for a long time - instant replay.
"Instant Replay in Baseball"
When the idea of using instant replay in baseball was proposed, most of the articles or discussion in support of this new practice noted that in a sport such as baseball it was critical to get the calls right. Fans were told that the purpose of this new procedure was to make sure that the close calls were made accurately. It was said, "It would be a shame for a team to lose a game because of a bad call by an umpire." And, "The play on the field should determine the outcome, not the umpire," we were told.
"In a sport as big as baseball, it is important to get the calls right."
On and on. Those were the arguments. That's what we were told.
None of it was true. Or, at least, much of that isn't true. Not 100%.
Baseball didn't want to get the calls correct as often as they could - baseball wanted a gimmick.
Well, they've got it - and last night's game, with Joe Girardi's indecision got baseball what it wanted - controversy, discussion, second-guessing, Twitter feeds, arguments, and an endless supply of talking on MLB TV, SportsCenter, and radio - not about the game, necessarily, but about the umpire and the manager.
Weren't we told that the purpose of instant replay was the let the players decide the outcome of the game?
All of this serves a purpose for the sport. It creates interest. It draws people in. There is angst and frustration. Fans become smarter than their team's manager. Writers and commentators have stories and narratives to write about for days...
I have already seen a host of articles and posts that state that this indecision is now Joe Girardi's legacy. This is how he'll be remembered.
But none of this was the purpose of Instant Replay when it was proposed. The purpose was supposed to be to get the calls right. I, personally, don't believe it and didn't at the time. I think the purpose was to create a gimmick so that we'd have days like today to critique, review, criticize, and over analyze a manager's indecision. The purpose was never to get the calls right. At least not entirely.
When baseball implemented the instant replay system, they had already seen how it worked in the NFL for a few years. Baseball had already seen the controversy over coaches not throwing the challenge flag. Baseball had already seen egregious calls not overturned - not because the official made the wrong call - but because the coach didn't challenge the call or because the play was not "reviewable." Instant replay became the story - and it became a new twist on post-game analysis. Baseball wanted some of that.
Baseball didn't seek to implement a system where the close plays were all made accurately through the use of technology. Baseball already saw how acoach's indecision could drive new discussion about the sport. It wasn't about always getting the calls correct, it was about creating a narrative and driving interest.
If the purpose of instant replay in baseball was (or is) to get the calls correct, then there is no reason to give a manager a challenge, or, in fact, any amount of challenges.
If the purpose of instant replay in baseball is to get the calls correct, then baseball should implement a system to, in fact, just get the calls correct. And it's not difficult. The technology is there. And it wouldn't add any more time to the game than they system we have now where we watch a bunch of umpires stand around a box wearing headsets while the fans watching in the stadium and at home already know the correct call...
The solution, if baseball truly cared about getting the calls right, and truly letting the players, and not the umpires or managers influence the game because of close calls, is to review all of the close plays.
All of the close plays.
All of the close plays - not the ones that are challenged.
They use this technology in professional tennis. It adds little or no time to the matches. All it takes is a quick camera look. On most close plays, most of the time, the fan watching at home knows if the correct call was made almost instantly. They certainly know before the pitcher throws the next pitch. The technology is already there. We see it with our own eyes game after game after game.
All it would take is for baseball to have a fifth umpire, one in a booth, who quickly sees the close plays and informs the home plate umpire that he is reviewing the play and to hold off the pitcher until the review is completed. On the vast majority of close plays, this would take seconds, not minutes. Most often this wouldn't add any time to the games. Again, in real time, at home, we see the replays, and know the correct call, before the next pitch comes anyway. We see the replay instantly. It's that quick - and that simple.
But baseball doesn't want that.
They don't want to get all of the calls correct.
Instead they want the controversy that comes when a manager doesn't challenge a play or a close call. They want the arguments from sportscasters and fans. They want the narrative. It sells.
Yesterday's Yankees game, by and large, was determined by an incorrect call by the home plate umpire. It happens. That's sports. The story isn't the umpire though. It's the manager and his inability, for whatever reason, to challenge that call.
The call could have easily been reviewed (and reversed) if the purpose of instant replay was to get the calls right. But that's not the sole purpose of instant replay and it never has been.
The Yankees lost a game they should have won. The ALDS is forever changed because of it. The players didn't lose this game, the umpire and the manager did. This is exactly what baseball wanted when they instituted instant replay with a challenge system.
Baseball wanted a gimmick. Baseball wanted controversy. Baseball wanted talking points and a new narrative. Well, they have it.
It wasn't and isn't about getting the call right. If it was, they'd just make sure they reviewed the close plays... to get them right.