Upon Further Review, Sports Created a Monster With Instant Replay
By Kyle Koster
We tried to warn them. We tried to survey the most distant horizon and see the unintended consequences sailing in from faraway places to wreck havoc on these simple games. But they didn't listen. Like an overzealous weird nerd hellbent on defending the honor of Elon Musk and his latest already-existing technology or Dr. John Hammond standing on the shoulders of greatness to bring back beasts from the Jurassic era, the idea of making progress became more important than actually making it.
And so instant replay came to sports as the all-knowing eye in the sky from which it would judge the quick and the dead. Preaching a false promise to always get it right, replay became the fall-back plan, fundamentally changing the games we loved and universally robbing everyone of in-the-moment joy or frustration, the very nirvana of sports.
The delays were worth it, they promised. Because what could possibly be worse than being victimized by human error in athletics when human error is celebrated with each turnover, mistake, or bonehead roughing penalty birthing a power play?
The answer? What predictably happened.
In baseball, which has always been the most inhospitable planet for replay, they've managed to get the worst of both worlds. Replay is used to see if a sliding player loses contact with a bag for 1/2924th of a millisecond on a tag play — never the spirit of the rule — and to turn bang-bang calls into secondary bang-bang calls. It has placed current umpires in the position of overruling their colleagues from thousands of miles away and exacerbated pace of play problems at a time when that's the last thing needed.
Last night the Philadelphia Phillies stole one from the Atlanta Braves when Alec Bohm tagged up and scored on a shallow fly to left field. Home plate ump Lance Barrett ruled him safe. The adjudicators in New York City agreed, even if no angle seemed to show Bohm touching the plate. Braves managers Brian Snitiker lost it. So did pitcher Drew Smyly.
Smyly raises a great point, if 10 years too late. If the whole idea is to justify the interminable delays with the correct call eventually, then what's the justification when that end is not realized? More and more people are realizing that reviews are less magical panacea and more Pandora's Box to a new set of problems. They are late, of course, but still welcome on the quest to return sports to their purest form, which never relied on cameras capturing every inch of the court or field of diamond.
The original sin of replay is that it's born out of the capitalistic infrastructure of sports and not the actual framework of the game. The two divergent enterprises rub up against each other and cause friction. Perhaps the next time the final minute of a college basketball game is elongated with 29 replays trying to determine if a ball touched someone's fingernail on the way out of bounds, wonder if it's all a bit of a ruse to get more time on channel. Perhaps the 18 replays used to see if a runner's knee was down in football could serve as a reminder that we've all sort of lost the plot along the way.
Protestations about what reviews would do to sports were seen as the reluctant feet-dragging of Luddites but have turned out to be real-world problems. It's extremely vexing to have been belittled for years only to have those who threw away the good for the idea of being perfect crawl back toward the right side of history. It feels a bit like those who never believed the Face-Eating Party of Wolves would Eat Their Faces.
It was all entirely predictable. The very thing the latest Godzilla vs. King Kong movie was trying to warn society against in-between lavish fight signs. Sometimes better technology is a step back for the world. And that was a smart movie, man.
It's paramount to have allies in fighting against our new video overlords. Perhaps it's too late.
But dammit does it ever bear repeating. Teams and fans alike have gotten through the sting of a dubious officiating decision in countless regular seasons and lived to tell about it. The double victimization is an added burn, and rightly causing some anger. It's not too late to improve this system or, even better, throw it in the trashcan where it belongs and just watch games, living in the moment even if it's imperfect.