In football, a coach can throw the red flag and challenge a questionable call. In professional tennis, players can challenge a close call on a ball hit near the line. Now, in Major League Baseball, plays can be challenged and reviewed with the help of instant replay.
The MLB's policy, enacted in August of last year, has made a turn for the better by including the use of instant replay. For a review, the umpires step off the field and take a quick look at the replay before returning with the correct call. The rule states, however, that only calls concerning home runs can be reviewed.
The extremely limited power of the instant replay is exactly how MLB Commissioner Bud Selig wants it to be; human error is part of the game.
Selig said he is also concerned with disrupting the flow of the game with reviews since each game already lasts about three hours. Five minutes more to get the calls right probably won't deter any fans from watching, though.
Instead of an expanded replay system, the MLB modifies the umpire rotation to improve accuracy of calls during the postseason. Umpires that are used in the postseason have been picked to work the playoffs due to their exceptional work during the regular season.
In addition, the umpire rotation has expanded from four to six umpires to ensure that fewer calls would be missed when every single game means so much to both teams. The system has satisfied teams, fans and media alike, and has rarely been doubted.
Then the 2009 playoffs came and showed how even six umpires can miss seemingly clear calls.
Three of the four umpire crews blew blatant calls in their respective Division Series. The extra line judge in the Yankees-Twins series missed a fairly routine fair-or-foul call. Replays showed that not only did the ball land fair, but that the ball was also touched in fair territory by Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera. The batter eventually walked, but the Twins would have scored that inning if he had been rightfully awarded a ground-rule double.
In Game 3 of the Phillies-Rockies Division Series, two missed calls on the same play led to the winning run for the Phillies. Not only was the runner out at first, but the instant replay also showed that the ball actually hit the batter in the batter's box. A proper ruling would have been a foul ball, but the game proceeded with a sacrifice fly, a run and a win for the Phillies.
The American League Champion Series between the Angels and Yankees proved to produce more blown calls and more questions for MLB's replay policy. In a wild Game 4, three different routine calls were called incorrectly. Thankfully, the calls did not directly affect the outcome of the game - the Yankees won 10-1 - but it again called the system into question.
Why are baseball umpires questioned more than any other sport's officials? It's in the nature of the game. More than almost any other sport, baseball is stop-and-go. Game action occurs pitch-by-pitch in succinct snippets of action.
This allows fans and sportscasters to question the ruling on the previous call during the time between plays. It also provides no further immediate action to make fans forget about the previous play.
There's also the issue of the dependency of the sport on its umpires - umpires are involved in every single play. Every pitch is either called a strike or a ball. Every hit is either fair or foul and every runner is either out or safe. In other sports, a good official is an official that goes unnoticed. In baseball, it is impossible for the umpire to be invisible. One umpire's strike zone is compared to other umpires' strike zones, as it often determines the way the game is played.
Around the sporting world, support is growing for usage of instant replay. A logical solution to the problem would be to extend the instant replay policy for the playoffs. Every single game matters significantly in the postseason, so every single call also matters. It is worth extra time to get all of the calls correct.
A solution to preserving the flow of the game would be to have a seventh umpire in the booth constantly looking at replays. They have already expanded it to six umpires; why not add one more? If that umpire sees a missed call, he calls down to the field, the umpires would correct the mistake and play would proceed accordingly.
This year, the World Series will be analyzed for both the caliber of play and of the umpiring. In any sport, if this issue arises, something has to be done to take focus off of the officiating and back onto the game. It's a safe bet that both umpires and players would like to have the attention off of the calls and back onto the game where it belongs.