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Let's not pause the drama
May 4, 2014 - Zach Baker
Saturday night, as I was going over some things for the upcoming week, I was listening to the Rockies-Mets game on my iPad.
It was the ninth inning and the Mets were up a run. Colarado's Nolan Arenado was at bat, and no one was out. Troy Tulowitzki was on first base.
The Mets' announcer, Howie Rose, called a deep fly to center. The Mets centerfielder, Juan Lagaras, tracked the ball down.
"And Tulowitzki's going to tag and try for second base!," Rose informed. "Here's the throw! Tulowitzki slides, and he's..."
At that moment, my audio cut out.
I love my iPad and my Sirius App. But it has a quirk where if you don't touch the screen over a period of time, it has what is called an "inactivity timeout," and essentially pauses.
I quickly rectified this by hitting the screen and pressing play. Rose told me Tulowitzki was safe (the Rockies later won the game on a pinch hit homer by Colby Culberson -- which is, at this moment, my favorite name in baseball. It sounds like he should be in the Casey at the Bat poem.)
In a way, this story is symbolic of what is happening in Baseball today.
And I don't like it.
Replay is here. Pandora's Box has been opened. Manager's can (and usually do) challenge calls. Umpires retreat to a room where they talk to more powerful umpires. The more powerful umpires -- presumably watching the game in a lair where the lights are tilted in such a way so if you were to go see them they'd be only silhouettes -- tell the umpires what the right call is.
This usually takes a while.
And, often, it seems, the more powerful umpires get it wrong.
But I'm not against replay because they get calls wrong. No matter how hard we try to remove it from daily life, the human element always will remain.
I don't like replay because it has eliminated drama from a sport that is dependent on it.
One of the most exciting games I ever covered was the 2008 Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament final between Heidelberg and Marietta.
Even though the game was in Tiffin, Marietta played the game as the home team. Heidelberg was clinging to a one-run advantage in the ninth. The bases were loaded and there was one out.
Marietta's batter hit a ground ball to second. Heidelberg's Gar Keen grabbed the ball and fed shortstop Jason Lash.
Lash whipped the ball to first with the runner bearing down on the bag. The ball arrived. The runner arrived at about the same time.
Game over. Heidelberg won.
And with that, there was a spontaneous eruption from the Heidelberg dugout.
Later, Heidelberg Matt Palm said the play at first was closer than "bang-bang."
"It was just, bang," he said.
Now, imagine if that game were taking place under this year's MLB rules.
Heidelberg would want to celebrate.
But it couldn't. Marietta coach Brian Brewer certainly would have challenged. The umpires would have had to go to the dugout to call someone to ask them what THEY had seen.
Meanwhile, Heidelberg and Marietta would be standing on the field. Was Heidelberg champion? Had Marietta tied the game and would it have a chance to win the tournament with one more at-bat?
And what about 'Berg reliever Andy Lowe? How on earth would he stay sharp if he didn't know whether to celebrate or prepare for his most important encounter of the season?
It's been six years since that game. I still don't know if the call on the field was right.
I do know replay would not have helped much, though. The play was super close. Replays might have shown the runner safe. But would it be conclusive? And what defines conclusive? And how long does a "conclusive ruling" take?
Baseball is built on the bang-bang play. It is built on the drama of the razor sharp action. A runner barely beats a play at the plate. The crowd wants to erupt, as it has in these situations for the last 150 years.
But can it? And will the pause that destroys these moments be worth it?
I don't like replay in any sport for a simple reason.
A player gets one shot to be right. Scott Norwood got one look at his field goal. Michael Jordan got one look at the basket with Craig Ehlo defending him and the buzzer. Kirk Gibson got at-bat to hit that homer off Dennis Eckersley.
Players get one chance to be right. Why should officials have a safety net, especially when that net disrupts play, delays reaction and makes the games endless?
Baseball is my favorite sport. But I'm slowly discovering how much I enjoy high school and college.
The sport is about pace, about drama, about confrontation.
Replay has a way of pushing all of that out of the way.
But high school and small colleges still give me baseball the way I want to see it.
And once is enough.
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