Archive for Saturday, November 10, 2007

Commentary: Baseball approaching 21st century

November 10, 2007


On Oct. 9, 1996, the fate of two franchises was irrevocably altered - or so Orioles fans will tell you - when 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium and turned what should have been an eighth-inning out into a game-tying home run by Derek Jeter.

Former Orioles manager Davey Johnson has contended that that play in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series got him fired. The Yankees went on to launch a mini-dynasty with four World Series championships in five years.

Eleven years later, major-league general managers have seen the light.

By a vote of 25-5, a limited use of instant replay was approved this week. That doesn't mean anything until the general managers meet in Nashville in December, and even then more approval from the players' and umpires' unions will be needed.

But, kicking and screaming, baseball is nudging its way into the 21st century.

I have long been against the use of replay to change calls at home plate or any of the bases. The umpires' authority to manage the game has to remain intact. And, as it is, we've already got four-hour games in the playoffs.

But the limited use the GMs voted to support refers to home run calls - whether balls clear the line, whether they are fair or foul, and whether fans interfere - which are next to impossible for base umpires to make from 200 feet away.

Even when crews are expanded for the playoffs, the right-and left-field umpires may need to decide from 100 feet away whether a ball landed on top of a line or beyond it.

The one and only good thing about the cookie-cutter multi-use stadiums that sprang to life in the '70s and are almost all now defunct was that you usually had a pretty clear view of whether a ball was a home run.

With the creative architecture of the last 15 years has come ambiguity.

Almost every one of the "modern" stadiums has some area where the line between a ball being in play or a home run is blurred.

With technology and proper camera placement, you can make the correct call most of the time. Umpires down on the field cannot.

About the only people likely to be opposed to getting these calls right are the purists or traditionalists. These folks long for the good ol' days which, in many cases, were really the dumb ol' days.

In sports today, more calls are correct and the better teams are more often fairly rewarded. That wasn't always the case.

Consider the '72 Miami Dolphins, who are in the news a lot these days as New England tries to spoil their 35-year reign as the NFL's last unbeaten team.

After going 14-0 that season and beating Cleveland in the divisional playoffs at the Orange Bowl, do you know which team the Dolphins played host to in the AFC Championship Game?

Answer: They didn't play host to anyone.

Despite a perfect record, Miami had to win at Pittsburgh to reach Super Bowl VII. Teams with better records were not rewarded with home-field advantage. Playoff sites were determined ahead of time by division.

Now how dumb was that?

During time, those who govern the NFL realized that had to be corrected. Over time, and led by former Cowboys president Tex Schramm, the league's owners adopted replay officiating to try and correct blown calls.


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