April 01, 2014

Hey Baseball: Welcome to the 21st Century

It is often said that baseball is steeped in tradition. That’s true, and I love that about the sport, but it also creates problems when it comes to make improvements to the game. Some people see baseball as this holy embodiment of the American spirit, developed by our forefathers many generations ago and untouchable by mere mortals. The rules are almost as old as the constitution, and there’s no reason to make changes to the great American pastime. I believe this attitude is partly to blame for baseball lagging behind other major sports in making important rule changes.

In the NFL, for example, coaches have been able to challenge calls to an instant replay review since 1999. The NFL has also been tweaking the rules for decades, since the early nineties, to protect quarterbacks, kickers, defenseless wide receivers, and ball carriers that lose their helmets. Admittedly, protecting players from injury is a much more important issue in football, because it is a true heavy-contact sport.

The NBA began using instant replay to review calls in 2002. The MLB didn’t jump onboard until 2008, and even then it was in a small way, with only a few types of plays being reviewable. The argument in favor of instant replay has always been “Get the call right every time.” That’s always been hard for me to follow, considering you could only consult instant-replay on a handful of plays. Six years later, we finally have an expansive system for instant replay, and that line of thinking starts to make a little more sense.

Like Fredi Gonzalez says at the start of this video, I haven’t always been a proponent of instant replay. In fact, I’ve spoken out against it. I still think it will make the game slower and suck some excitement out of the hairline calls. But if instant replay is going to be part of the game, it might as well apply to as many types of plays as possible.

And the league is being smart about employing this new technology. Every game will be monitored by an umpiring crew in the NYC headquarters, so when a challenge is made, there’s an umpire who has already seen the video footage who will be ready shortly to make a decision. (The awesome MLB replay room is like something out of a sci-fi movie and you should read more about it here.)

As for the new rules concerning collisions at home, it’s a step in the right direction, but only halfway there. It doesn’t fully ban collisions. A runner can still collide with the catcher and be called safe. In my opinion, home plate should be treated like any other base; catchers shouldn’t block the plate, and runners should slide rather than try to bowl over the catchers. If there’s not a ton of backlash in 2014, I expect MLB to rework this rule to ban collisions altogether.

In case you’re wondering, Gattis “liked the rule the way it was,” but how many runners are brave enough to tackle El Oso Blanco?

Whether or not you agree with the rule changes, you have to admit that they make baseball a much more modern game. In time, the new rules will be an afterthought at most. There was some resistance to mandatory batting helmets a few decades ago, but no one even notices those hunks of hard plastic anymore.



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