Could instant replay be coming to Major League Baseball?
They’ll emerge from their deep depression sometime early next spring because that’s the time baseball fans always find renewal. One day the skies will turn from gray to blue, pitchers and catchers will report in Winter Haven, Fla., and only the most bitter in Cleveland will still be blaming Joel Skinner.
Between now and then there will be some painful times, none so painful as Wednesday night when the Red Sox open at home in Boston against the Colorado Rockies in the first game of the World Series.
If any fans in Cleveland are watching on television, they’ll be doing so at their own risk.
The image of Skinner holding both arms in the air will be replayed just as sure as cameras will incessantly show B-list celebrities who just happen to have television shows on FOX. Following that, we’re sure to be treated to a shot of an incredulous Kenny Lofton glaring at the third-base coach.
Cleveland fans have a right to be angry after being so close. Their starting pitchers should shoulder some of the burden, but Skinner is an easy and convenient target.
While they’re at it, though, they should channel some of that anger Bud Selig’s way. Without his opposition to instant replay, the Indians might well be in the World Series no matter how many runners Skinner held at third base.
Not only that, if instant replay was in use they might well have been playing the San Diego Padres.
Padres fans are still trying to come to terms with Matt Holliday’s phantom tag of home, while people in Cleveland will have a long, cold winter to digest their own blown call. It didn’t get the attention afterward because that was focused on Skinner’s decision to hold Lofton on third.
Then again, who knows what might have happened had Lofton not been called out when he tried to stretch a single into a double with his team down 3-1 in the fifth inning of Game 7.
Manny Ramirez played Lofton’s shot off the Green Monster perfectly and threw a strike to second base to get Lofton. Replays showed the tag by Dustin Pedroia missed Lofton’s outstretched hand and he touched the bag before it hit his body.
With instant replay, the call would have been overturned and Cleveland would have had a runner on second with no outs. The next two batters both singled, and the Indians would have tied the game at the very least, and could very well have gone ahead.
Indians fans can only ponder how much more aggressive Skinner would have been two innings later had their team had control of the game instead of being behind.
Baseball’s refusal to join the technological revolution is, to many, a charming throwback that both preserves the spirit of the game and gives grown men a chance to occasionally prance about and act silly when things don’t go their way. That’s fine for the most part over a long 162-game season where the calls tend to eventually even themselves out.
This year it might just have made a difference which teams made it to the World Series and, because of that, there’s a good chance it won’t be long before the sight of umpires huddled around a video screen is a common one in ballparks across America.
“I am willing to say we’ll at least talk about this if people want to talk about it,” Selig said during the National League championship series.
That was a departure from norm for Selig, who believes instant replay will take a human element out of the game and slow it up even more. He’s right on both counts, but the tide of opinion is turning and he may not be able to hold out much longer against the increasing number of owners and general managers who believe the time has come to hop on the instant replay bandwagon.
Since the NFL made it easy for fans to love instant replay, almost every sport besides baseball has embraced the use of cameras to settle disputes. College football uses it, the NBA is expanding its use to include the review of flagrant fouls and, for the first time this year, players had clear evidence to challenge what was in and what was out at Wimbledon.
They’re even using it in international gymnastics, which should make it more difficult for the people who run the sport to manipulate the results.
Purists may cringe at its use in baseball, and I don’t blame them. I’d rather watch a manager go at an umpire for a few minutes than watch an umpire look at a video screen, and it doesn’t bother me that there will always be an element of human error that can decide a game.
Then again, I also don’t like the DH, can’t understand why they can’t play a game in less than 22 hours anymore, and cringe at the thought of a $10 beer at the ballpark.
Instant replay is coming, and the odds are now it will be coming sooner than most expected.
Unfortunately, for Joel Skinner, it didn’t come soon enough.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org