The Milwaukee Brewers were victimized by instant replay on Saturday afternoon at Miller Park. The Brew Crew seemingly escaped a bases loaded jam in the top of the 9th inning, but replay revealed that Scooter Gennett removed his left foot from second base a split second too soon. The inning-ending double play was converted into a fielder’s choice and the game-winning run was awarded to the Cincinnati Reds. While the ruling was technically correct, it’s also a reminder of how the prevalence of instant replay makes sports less enjoyable.
Sports leagues are becoming increasingly obsessed with accuracy. On the surface this seems like a no brainer. If an umpire incorrectly calls a baserunner safe, why not give him a chance to take another look at the play and call him out? Or why not allow basketball referees to double-check which team last touched the ball before it went out of bounds? Thought it’s indisputably important to eliminate officiating errors, it’s not that important.
What’s lost in the obsession of “getting things right” is that it doing so does not add any enjoyment to the viewing experience. Sports are at their best when the games have a natural flow and rhythm. We can all agree that the most annoying part of NFL games is the touchdown-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence. Instant replay proliferates this choppiness, often to verify that a 13-yard pass was actually caught.
The worst part of replay is that technology allows plays to be reviewed at a molecular level. Routine plays are now subject to thorough analysis, which has an insidious effect on the fan experience. You can never fully enjoy the action because there’s always a chance a play will be overturned due to some infinitesimal imperfection. A double play is not officially a double play until the umpire stops the game, puts on a pair of headphones, and waits for someone in New York City to determine whether the fielder’s foot popped off second base a microsecond too soon.
Instant replay certainly has its value. It would be a shame to see a team (not named the St. Louis Cardinals) lose an important game because an umpire pulls a Don Denkinger and biffs an obvious call. But do we really care about what happens in a May game between the Reds and Brewers? I’m confident the world would still be turning if the umpires did not take another look at the placement of Scooter’s foot.
Sports leagues at all levels need to remember that their purpose is to allow incredible athletes perform feats of athleticism. Anything else is an unwelcome distraction. Instant replay fits into that category.