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A Simple Way to Get Calls Right and Speed Up the Game

A Simple Way to Get Calls Right and Speed Up the Game

By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.

This article was written for the IBWAA and was printed in the IBWAA Newsletter (Here’s The Pitch.


I have never been against instant replay in sports. The ultimate goal should be to get the calls correct. It was a shame that Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game on a clearly missed call. It was terrible that the Cardinals probably lost a World Series in 1985 for the same reason. I might even say that the Yankees won a playoff game in 1996, with the aid of a missed call on a long fly to right field (that wasn’t quite long enough) off the bat of Derek Jeter.

Baseball’s goal should always be to get the calls correct. Always, without exception.

Well, with one exception.

I am not a fan of the super-ultra-milli-second-by-milli-second reviews that show a player being tagged out because his foot popped off the bag for that fraction of a second. When calls get that precise, that’s not in the best spirit of the game.

In essence, those calls are correct — his foot was off the bag — but baseball also was never a game that was expected to be that precise. Get the calls correct, but let’s also keep a sense of reasonableness about this. (I think a solution to this is to review plays in real time or even half time, but if a play can’t be changed with reasonableness without going to the microscopic level, it should be left to stand.)

But, while I want baseball to primarily get the calls correct, one thing I have always been against is giving teams a certain amount of challenges. The purpose of giving teams challenges is to create a gimmick. It is not, clearly, and absolutely, to get all the calls correct. This is an absolute fact because once a team uses up its challenges, even if a call is made incorrectly, they cannot question it and it will not be overturned. The challenge rule, by design, allows for missed calls to stand.

What the challenge rule does is create talking points, discussions, and statistics (and in this case, meaningless statistics). The challenge rule allows commentators, writers, and fans to debate whether or not certain calls should be challenged. It creates new narratives for the game (“Do you waste a challenge early in the game?”) while not, at all, promoting the idea that all calls should be correct.

A manager might not use his challenge at a certain point in a game in order to save it for when he might need it later. All of this promotes discussion, no doubt, but it is not designed as part of the rule’s supposed original purpose — to get the calls correct.

As for the challenge statistics, I don’t need to know that a manager gets 87% of his challenges overturned or that he has used up his challenges 11% of the time. Who cares? What does that have to do with the play on their field? All of that, I argue, just makes the whole premise a gimmick.

The worst part of the instant replay rule as it stands now is that, when used, it slows down the game in the worst possible way. No one wants to watch a group of umpires standing around with headsets on as nothing happens on the field. Talk about boring!

There are plenty of times when the viewers at home see the replays time and time again, and know the correct call already, while they await the decision makers in New York on the other end of those headsets to issue their final decree.

Of course, before we get that enthralling theater, we see the replay a few times as the manager tells his batter to not step into the box or the pitcher to now throw the ball as the team’s video technician makes an initial assessment as to whether or not the challenge should be made in the first place. For the most part, at that moment, in spite of the delay in the game, we already know the outcome of the decision.

To all of this I have a simple but very effective solution that is patently fair, reasonable, not focused on gimmicks or discussion points, and gets the calls correct almost always, again without the milli-second, frame-by-frame nuances of extremely close plays.

I know how to speed up the game, eliminate challenges, and get the calls correct. I have been advocating for this since the original replay rule was put into place. The answer is so simple and easy. It improves the game. And take almost no time to implement. All it would require is one more umpire…

The answer to the replay dilemma is to have a fifth umpire at every game. This umpire should be on hand, in the stadium, and watching the game in real time on a series of television monitors. This umpire would have a real-time connection, via headsets, with the home plate umpire. The fifth umpire, the in-booth arbiter, would review every single close play (but not in milli-seconds) to determine if the call on the field was correct.

The vast majority of time, that would take place almost instantaneously. This umpire would know, just as the technician in the dugout knows, and just as the fans know at home, if a call was made correctly. If it was, the umpire would alert the home-plate umpire to keep the game moving (“Play ball, the call was correct”) or to hold the game up for a moment or two longer to allow for more reviews of the play. That would happen in real time.

Most often there would be no delay. Most often all would forget that there is a replay taking place. It would just happen. But, there would be piece of mind, from all, the managers, players, fans, commentators, and umpires alike, knowing that the calls, all of the calls, not just the ones challenged, were correct.

Gone from the game would be challenges. Gone would be meaningless talking points. Gone would be statistics that mean nothing. And gone would be the images of a bunch of decision makers standing around with big headsets on while the game drags to a halt.

[Editor’s Note: Bravo!]

Paul Semendinger, Ed.D. is an elementary school principal in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Start Spreading the News, a blog about the Yankees and award-winning author. Dr. Semendinger’s unique history of the Yankees, The Least Among Them, will be published in October 2021.


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Start Spreading the News is the place for some of the very best analysis and insight focusing primarily on the New York Yankees.

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