After Further Review………

By Bryan Burwell
Updated: May 27, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Some in baseball will have you believe that America’s pastime is on the verge of some Terminator-like hostile takeover of dangerous machines.

Instant replay, the purists tell us, is corrupt and dangerous. They are like so many brooding Sarah Connor warriors, convinced that instant replay in baseball ultimately will take away our free will, eliminate our will to live, and that anyone who wants to use it is not only hopelessly ugly, but nothing nice will ever happen to them, either.

At the risk of having all those insidious woes ruin my day, I just want to know why baseball needs a study to determine whether instant replay can help improve its game.

Why can’t baseball just say it’s way past time to institute replay as a useful tool, and after the All-Star break have the replay booths in place and be done with it?

We already have instant replay and it works. It works in every other sport, from tennis to football, and none of those sports is worse for embracing the technology.

Yet even in the face of the most recent rash of highly publicized mistakes by its umpires that could have been immediately corrected by TV replays, baseball says it has to test it first.

Commissioner Bug Selig says he’s “seriously reviewing” the notion of instant replay. But when he says it, it sounds like he’s “seriously reviewing” whether he should set his hair on fire. Instant replay is not going to be that painful.

It’s intended to help, not hurt the game. You don’t need a study to gather those facts. We already know that instant replay can fix the mistakes that imperfect men make every night and day.

We see it on ESPN on those endless highlight loops that run all day. That’s your study. That’s your review. Yet Selig says baseball will review it and study it and ponder it and fret over it and otherwise waste all sorts of valuable time before getting around to the conclusion that he should already know: Instant replay works.

We know it works because we watch replay in action during every single major-league baseball game when in press boxes all over America, almost by instinct, baseball writers reflexively turn their heads toward TV screens to refer to televised replays. In bars and homes everywhere in the baseball-viewing world, the average viewer does the same thing.

They do it in the ballpark, where the replay is shown to anyone with eyes and the ability to check out the replays. So why in the world can everyone else know whether the play is right or wrong, fair or foul, safe or out, home run, ground-rule double or fan interference, but the only people whose job it is to get it right — the major-league umpires — can’t take a peek?

Why are the main people who should know made to intentionally be the only ones who don’t know?

But what about baseball’s great tradition of the “human element” the romantics ask. In other words, that’s the cloying and cockeyed logic that believes that part of the pure perfection of baseball is its glorified imperfection.

Every time I hear that, I want to scream.

And I want to scream about this too: They tell me instant replay will slow the game down. News flash. It’s already slow. It’s not a video game. It’s baseball, and it was intended to have a more unhurried pace.

Seriously, how much slower would baseball be because of instant replay?

Without replay, just one bad call can create a dispute that turns a game into the Never-ending Story. You know the drill. Controversial call provokes angry snit by player, who throws his cap, stomps the ground, cusses up a storm (elapsed time: 45 seconds).

The player is then joined by the first-base coach, who steps in between the player and ump, huffs and puffs, cusses and fusses, kicks up dirt, shoves the player away again (elapsed time: 1 minute, 45 seconds).

The umpire returns fire, cussing and pointing, waving his hands hysterically while ducking the spittle and insults coming from the manager, who has now joined the little dust-up (elapsed time: 2:10).

And boy is the manager putting on a show. In a fit of irrational showmanship, our feisty field general is building a dirt castle over home plate, throwing a tantrum and the base toward the outfield and has now questioned the umpire’s vision and family lineage (elapsed time: 2:30).

And now both the player and manager have been tossed out of the game, and the manager is in the dugout lobbing batting helmets, gloves, bats and water buckets onto the field.

In the three-plus minutes that traditional little circus would take, the umps could have reviewed 15 plays, and been done with it.