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To replay, or not to replay

September 1, 2008

by Stephen Wiblemo

To replay, or not to replay, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the game to suffer the blown calls and missed home runs of outrageous umpires, or to take arms against the folly of human error.

OK, it isn’t as good as Shakespeare, but Hamlet’s timeless soliloquy could be used to describe the moral quandary that baseball fans are dealing with today.

Wednesday, Aug. 20 Major League Baseball umpires and management signed an agreement to allow baseball to start using instant replay to help determine calls on the field.

Thursday, Aug. 28, that decision went into effect around the league.

According to the agreement, replays will only be used to help determine boundary calls, such as determining whether a fly ball is fair or foul, or whether it counts as a home run.

This sounds like a noble cause, that if done right could actually help umpires and improve the game entirely.

To some people, though, this may seem silly. How could an umpire not know if a hit is a home run?

Well, in today’s ballparks it just isn’t as cut and dry as it once was. Simply hitting it over the fence isn’t the deal anymore.

Many fields now have obstructions, like scoreboards, that are on the outfield walls. Usually, there is a line across the wall meant to designate where the top of the fence is. If the ball is hit over the line, it’s a home run, even if its the scoreboard and bounces back in. But what if it hits on the line, or just slightly above or below it? That could be a tough call for an umpire to make from the infield.

Now, factor in fan interference. What if someone sitting in the front row over right field reaches over the wall and grabs a ball that wasn’t going out? That is ruled a ground-rule double, but how would an umpire know?

Or maybe that same fan gets hit in the hands with a ball that was going out, but it bounces back on the field. How do the umpires know if the fan’s hands were beyond the fence or not?

It can also be difficult for umpires to tell if a ball is fair or foul, especially with some of the juiced up freaks in the major leagues that can hit a ball 500 feet.

If someone hits a bomb along the third-base line, and it appears to be tailing foul, but is hit so high that it goes above the foul pole, it would be a tough call for an umpire to make.

So, while most people in baseball seem to think this addition will improve baseball, there is some skepticism, especially from fans.

In a game steeped in tradition, some people are opposed to any change, and with this one, they do have a point worth discussing.

Part of what makes baseball great is the human element.

While this change seems minor, and would only be needed for a few occasions every season, fans are worried about what could be next.

Are we going to start using machines to call balls and strikes for us, or make close calls at the plate?

I hope not.

I don’t think Major League Baseball will ever let it get that far, which is why I think this change is a good thing.

It is small enough so that it won’t have a huge effect on the game overall, but it does have the possibility of having a huge effect on individual games, for the better.

So, while I agree that replay is a positive change overall, I want to wait and see how it goes for now before baseball decides to go any further with it.

After all, the league is a stage, and all the pitchers and batters players. They have their strikes and balls, and one man in his time makes many bad calls.

OK, no more Shakespeare.

Road trip of doom?

As I’m writing this column, the Twins are heading to Oakland to start the third series of a 14-game road trip that could make or break their run for a division title.

Clearly, this extended road trip is the worst unintentional consequence of the Republican National Convention taking place in Minnesota. Forget violent rioting mobs, or miles of clogged streets or highways. If the Twins bomb during this road trip and miss the playoffs, I may never vote for a Republican again.

As of Friday, Aug. 27, the Twins sported a dominate 46-23 home record, but held a 29-35 away record, for an overall record of 75-58.

At this point, the Chicago White Sox are the only other team in contention as they held a one-game lead over Minnesota with a 76-57 record.

The Indians, which were riding an unexpected 10-game winning streak, have surpassed the Tigers for third place, but are still 10.5 games out of first, and would need a miracle even greater than what the Twins performed in 2006.

At the beginning of this road trip, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he thought that a 7-7 record during the stretch would be sufficient. Everything seemed to be going well as Minnesota won the first two games against the Angels, but then they lost the last two games, which were both winnable, to split the series.

Still, going 2-2 against the team with the second-best record in baseball is pretty good.

But then the Twins dropped two more winnable games to Seattle, a team that is destined to lose 100 games this year, before finally breaking a four-game slide.

Only time will tell if Minnesota can pull its nose up and salvage this road trip.

One thing that made me happy, though, was the addition of Eddie Guardado to the Twins roster again.

Guardado was a product of the Twins’ minor league system and was with Minnesota for 11 years, from 1993 to 2003, before leaving in free agency.

I have been saying for weeks now that the Twins need to get another arm in the bullpen, and Guardado is a great fit. He is a veteran pitcher that has been with the club most of his career, knows the coaches, and knows how to get outs.

And best of all, we only had to trade a Hamburger for him. Seriously. In return for Guardado, the Rangers received a Twins minor league pitcher named Mark Hamburger.

So, at least Minnesota is moving in the right direction. Maybe Bill Smith is reading my columns?