See a different game

Baseball's instant replay system might work fine, but its hasty implementation signals a disturbing change in attitude.


King Kaufman
September 2, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

We're four days into baseball's instant replay era and it's going great. The instant replay hasn't been used. At its current pace, instant replay will not be used for another four days, or ever. Sample size warning.

So are we ready now to enter the official-scoring-by-committee era? That's what Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin says he wants after C.C. Sabathia lost a no-hitter on a questionable scorer's call Sunday. Sabathia ended up with a one-hit shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the only hit a dribbler by Andy LaRoche that Sabathia failed to pick up. Many observers thought it should have been ruled an error.

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Since it was Sabathia's own muff that cost him the no-no, he couldn't blame a teammate for robbing him of his place in history. But he could have, if he'd wanted to, blamed the official scorer for breaking one of baseball's pointless unwritten codes by ruling "hit" on a borderline play for a team's first hit of the game.

He didn't: "We still won the game," he said. "If they change it or if they don't, I'm fine."

By "it," Sabathia meant the ruling. The Brewers are preparing an appeal to the major league offices, hoping to get the ruling changed, which would give Sabathia a retroactive no-hitter. The Brewers could then retroactively mob him on the mound.

That presumably wouldn't be good enough for manager Ned Yost, who whined after the game Sunday that he, among others, had been robbed of the moment. "That's a stinkin' no-hitter that we all got cheated from," he said.

And that led to Melvin calling for a new system of official scoring. He wants a committee to decide these things, rather than the single scorer.

I think all of us who have ever worked anywhere recognize that a committee is always the best way to arrive at decisions. Without committees, we wouldn't have camels.

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Why this sudden impulse in baseball for radical and immediate change? After a century and a half or so of replay-free baseball, a perfectly good century and a half that gave us Willie Mays, the infield fly rule and sausage racing, all of a sudden the need for instant replay on so-called boundary calls -- home runs or not, fair or foul -- was so urgent that it had to be implemented midseason.

Now, after that same century and a half of rulings good, bad and crazy, of hits that should have been errors and errors that should have been outs and stolen bases that should have been fielder's indifference and who knows what else, one fumbled grounder means the way games are scored has to be changed, at least according to Doug Melvin.

Melvin's idea is probably a non-starter. For one thing, good luck getting Major League Baseball to triple its outlay on official scorers -- to more than $400 per game! For another ... what was I talking about? Oh, yeah: How games are officially scored is officially the most boring subject in the history of boring. That particular bandwagon need not stock up on the peanuts.

But it's interesting and troubling that he says he's seriously considering bringing it up at the next general managers meeting. This is a bad trend for baseball. This is how the NFL does things, constantly larding on new rules and methods to fix some momentary problem, often one caused by the last poorly thought-out new rule or method. It's why the NFL rule book is an impossibly complicated, self-contradicting, unknowable welter.

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The NFL is the god-king of everything, of course, but that doesn't mean it does everything right. The product is so good the business is not endangered by this lurching management style.

Most of us who have ever worked anywhere recognize that too. Every minor problem is met with a new rule, a new policy, a new system. It's a sign that the people running things don't believe the history, don't trust that minor problems -- a hit or an error, a home run or a foul ball a few times a year each -- really are minor, that, in this case, the game is strong enough to survive.

That's always been a strength of baseball. It responded to a half dozen or so years of anemic offense by lowering the mound in 1969, then introducing the designated hitter in the American League in 1972. Those are the kinds of changes that happen on the odd Tuesday in the NFL. In baseball, they're remembered as significant moments in history.

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Change isn't bad. Instant replay might not even be bad. But baseball should remember how to go about these things.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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