The loss of a perfect game by Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga at the hands of umpire Jim Joyce brings up a tired discussion of instant replay that is sure to get everyone nowhere. In our dysfunctional attempt to “improve” the game we simply mire ourselves in the details of a single solution rather than attempting to see multiple problems and engineer many remedies.
Unfortunately, replay is inappropriate in many situations for all of the reasons that both sides in the discussion cite: it is relatively slow and would cause the action on the field to stop (as in football) while a visual record of a play is interpreted. But we shouldn’t limit our search for improvement to video. In contrast an engineering solution could be as simple as pressure sensitive bases. Hit a base and the impact is recorded synchronized with a video record of the play. With two forms of data a scorer would have unambiguous evidence to quickly make a call without laboriously running the tape forward and back, a single freeze frame would provide all the needed evidence.
Replay won’t solve all issues in the quirky game of baseball but if we abandon the attempt at a one size fit all solution and identify simple engineering approaches to specific problems we can make umpiring more accurate without drastically changing the character of the game.