While Sam Holbrook's invoking of the infield fly rule in the Wild Card playoff between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves wasn't universally condemned — largely because it's a judgement call up to interpretation — saying that it was "reasonable effort for" Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma to go out as far into left field as he did is stretching the rule at best. Rarely, if ever, do infielders have to travel that far to catch a supposedly routine fly ball.
Conversely, everyone agrees that Omar Infante was out on an attempted pickoff attempt in the eighth inning of Sunday's Game 2 of the American League Champioship series — because the replay makes that completely apparent. Yankees manager Joe Girardi immediately came out to argue the play, and was later ejected — continuing to jaw at second-base umpire Jeff Nelson — while making a pitching change.
In the wake of Sunday's call, in particular, everyone from Girardi himself to Buster Olney to former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra has openly and unequivocally called for instant replay to be vastly expanded throughout Major League Baseball, beyond just home run calls. It's an argument that's been a constant in baseball throughout the last decade or more, but every time such a blown call happens the cries get a little louder. It certainly doesn't help to see a gallery of bad calls such as these throughout the years.
But all that being said, reacting to individual gaffes is the wrong way to look at the instant replay debate. Rather, the argument should be a much more holistic one, taking into account these singular outcomes, but emotional and viewing factors such as game times, how replay delays affect baseball players and the historical charm of the human element in baseball.
Take, for instance, the now infamous blown call by first-base umpire Jim Joyce which cost Tigers starting pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game after setting down 26 Cleveland Indians in a row. No doubt that was a blown call — Joyce admitted as much later — but ultimately the blown call was far more valuable to baseball than a perfect game would have been.
Galarraga's name is now synonymous with the near-perfect game, and is far more likely to be recalled in casual conversation that it would have been had he recorded that 27th out. Moreover, the incident led to one of the best displays of sportsmanship the game has ever seen, with the two reportedly sharing a hug after the contest. Ultimately, the incident goes down in history as just one of those baseball oddities, and the sport is better off living with those than engaging in a never-ending pursuit of perfect officiating.
Umpiring presumably hasn't gotten worse over the years, but it has become more scrutinized simply because there are more camera angles and more instant replay than ever before. With some variation of a K-Zone now used in almost every baseball telecast, calling balls and strikes, too, can be left up to the armchair umpire.
This all begs the question: if you're going to open up that Pandora's box, if you're going to begin down that slippery slope, why even use human umpires whatsoever?
If a machine can call balls and strikes with total accuracy and one replay official could call safe or out from a spot in the press box, what's the point of continuing to rely upon the farce of the human element?
Whatever mistakes umpires may make throughout the course of a game, the sport of baseball is better for the water cooler talk that such calls breed. The human element hasn't hurt the integrity of the game throughout it's history, and the fact that these debates continue to exist not only remains something that's uniquely intrinsic to baseball, but is part of the charm of a game that is uniquely indebted to its history.
And, of course, this argument is to say nothing of what replay would actually do to the sport on the field, as well. Fans already don't appreciate three-hour games, and pitchers certainly don't appreciate extra breaks in the action. Baseball is a sport that already has troubles with watchability and is highly dependent on flow, so why exacerbate that further?
Baseball is a sport which has done just fine without instant replay throughout it's 150-year history, and it will continue to survive. In fact, the extra debate that it continues to foment might actually be an overall positive for the sport.
However, if there is a debate about instant replay to be had, let's make it a holistic one, not a reactionary one. There are more factors to be considered beyond just getting every single play exactly right 100 percent of the time.
Let's keep the charm in baseball — even if it doesn't always yield the perfect result.