- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

Let’s hear it for more or less instant replay in baseball - an idea whose time has more than come.

Given the sport’s history of snail-like changes, the word “instant” is usually oxymoronic, with the accent on the last three syllables. Therefore it’s a bit startling to learn that replays could become a part of the erstwhile national pastime before the Nationals lose another 40 or 50 games.

Of course, we’re not talking about anything drastic here. Major League Baseball wants to introduce the use of replays by August merely to help umpires make the correct calls when a slugger belts the ball toward the wall, an outfielder leaps and …???

Did the defensive player tip the ball over the fence? Did he reach over and “pull back” a home run? Did a fan with a glove interfere? Often, it’s hard - or impossible - to determine the naked truth with the naked eye.

I remember how Jon Miller, the best baseball broadcaster of this generation, described this conundrum.

“I watch the TV monitor because it’s the only way to make that call,” Miller told me. “Otherwise you might say, ‘It’s outta here,’ the outfielder will jump and make the catch and you’ll look like an idiot.”

If using TV to decide what happened is good enough for Jon Miller, it certainly should be good enough for commissioner Bud Selig, who ultimately will make the call on replays.

Before Selig gets involved, however, MLB and the umpires’ union must reach agreement on the particulars, which might not be easy. The umps are fiercely protective of their authority, which they should be. Unfortunately, some of them take this to mean they should stand toe to toe and jaw to jaw with managers and players who argue calls, which isn’t right either.

I like the way old Bill Klem, the patron saint of umpires, ended disputes in the early days of the 20th century. When he had enough, Klem would simply turn and walk away. If his antagonist followed, Bill would stop and draw a line in the dirt. Cross it and you were gone faster than you could emit an expletive.

Most other major sports already use TV in one form or another on close calls. According to the Associated Press, MLB’s proposed plan would have disputed plays reviewed by a supervisor studying video feeds in a New York studio. Umpires on the field would not see the plays themselves but would be advised by the supervisor as to the right call.

“We’d be all in favor of listening to whatever proposal [MLB] might have,” veteran umpire John Hirschbeck told the AP. Heck, why not?

Details remain to be worked out. For instance, how often could a manager “challenge” a call in a game? If the replay went against him, would his team be penalized - say by losing an out? Again, why not?

Nobody wants to see baseball games get longer as in football, where the referee sticks his head under a towel and watches replays on a monitor while TV shows both coaches waiting with their arms folded.

Yet if such matters are handled with dispatch, it shouldn’t add much time at all. And if MLB is serious about shortening games, how about penalizing hitters who step out and rewrap their batting gloves after every toss or pitchers who take a leisurely stroll around the mound before peering in for the next sign?

If judicious methods are employed, I wouldn’t mind seeing TV used on, say, disputed third-strike calls and close plays on the bases. How many times have you seen replays that prove a bad decision was made? Umpires are astonishingly accurate - but not perfect.

Let’s honor the memory of Klem again. The “Old Arbiter” once proclaimed proudly while tapping his heart, “I never missed one - in here.”

This Hall of Famer knew he did indeed miss one occasionally on the field. And I have a feeling that if were around today, Bill would be all in favor or replays. Anything, you see, to get it right.

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