From the Quiet Ice . . .
Watching the MLB World Series the other night, I had the opportunity to be the outsider — not a fan, other than having grown up rooting for the Dodgers and going to the occasional game at Chavez Ravine. Well, okay, I’m a long-distance Dodger fan. But I watch the equivalent of zero baseball until the postseason, and sometimes not much of that. I lack the attention span for the pace, although I deeply appreciate and respect the game. Not nearly as much as hockey, of course.
But sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to see the flaws in the game you love — or in anything you love, for that matter.
So when a play involved a pick-off attempt at first base, and the fielding team challenged the first-base umpire’s call, I watched with more than usual interest as the MLB’s review protocol unfolded in all its majesty.
I grew up playing baseball; we had umpires and officials who made the calls at first and third, sometimes at second, so I’m well familiar with the “tie-goes-to-the-runner” rule and always found it eminently sensible. After all, if it’s close, then it’s generally close enough for everyone involved playing the game too. You move on.
The review process extended through the minutes, scrutinizing video of the diving runner’s hand knifing toward the bag and the first baseman’s glove sweeping across to intercept — over and over again, stop-motion, freeze-frame, left, right, under, over — it quickly got ridiculous . . . and then, just tedious. I lost interest — and this was the World Series.
Now, I find baseball pretty boring to watch, especially given the roughly 25 seconds on average between every pitch. I have watched games that I timed at closer to 40 seconds between pitches, but I’ll accept The Bleacher Report’s numbers on this.
Even for those unafflicted by ADD, unlike myself, that’s a rough sport to spectate. So when you add in this kind of review to see if the highly-trained umpire’s eyes missed a micro-touch, even in the World Series, you pretty much lose me. I’d have to be a fan of one of these teams — okay, even more die-hard a fan — to wait this out.
If I’m MLB commissioner for a day, I get rid of this kind of challenge and review. The umpires can and will make the right call the vast majority of the time. They can already appeal to the other officials. It’s enough already. Move on. Tie goes to the runner. It’s a wonderful rule and you know how we know it is? Because it solves disputes among kids playing ball, that’s how.
I wish the NHL had an equivalent, especially to avoid reviews of offside zone entries at high speed. I say if the infraction cannot be clearly distinguished with 30 seconds of video review, move on: penalize the coach that challenged the play, as they do now, but stop giving it the forensic treatment that drags on for five minutes or more. Close enough — play on!
Watching this replay review in baseball was eye-opening and I realized how the NHL reviews must strike casual observers, those tuning in once in a while or only in the playoffs. Especially those reviews that go on for minutes, quite literally. What are we thinking?
Consider how these offside reviews look and sound to such viewers who do not live and breathe the NHL. They might stay tuned only out of sheer fascination that these lunatics are debating vertical planes and millimeters of separation between blade and ice — shadows vs. lines, white vs. blue and on and on.
It’s worse than silly because if you’re trying to capture and keep new viewers and fans, they will think this is the stupidest and most tedious thing they’ve ever witnessed. Dumber than MLB’s reviews and probably something only appropriate at horse racing finish lines, and there only because of how much money is at stake.
Is that much money at stake on a zone entry? And I don’t care if it leads to a goal. Play on.
The NHL and officials group need to get together with the owners and talk some sense amongst themselves. They need to watch these protocols in other sports and ask themselves the question, would I keep watching if I weren’t a devotee of this sport and/or team? They will all reach the same answer: No, they would not.
And once they realize that, they need to get rid of it all. Let the officials do their job. Everyone complains that refereeing is worse and worse; the officials have taken huge abuse the past couple years, and I have been right there with critics.
But you have to wonder, could their declining performance, if that’s in fact what it is, be related to a decline in confidence because they know they could be challenged at every turn?
We know they are good refs and linesmen or they wouldn’t even be there. Let’s let them do their job and agree to abide by their calls — even if there might be the occasional miss. I’m guessing that once they know they own the call, they will be at their best and rise to the challenge.
Think about it: if you know there’s a monitor recording your every job performance, and that any potential misstep can be called up for review, wouldn’t you eventually just defer to that machinery?
Wouldn’t it strip away some of your confidence and commitment? It would mine.