Thursday, August 28

Seven Golds and One Silver: A Case for Instant Replay

Tonight, Major League Baseball will officially embrace instant replay, ending its long-standing resistance against introducing the technology. Even Commissioner Bud Selig is not excited to see the purists overruled, “My opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play,” he said. “But when you look at the technology we have and you look at the new ballparks — and even some of the older ballparks that have been reconfigured — there’s no question that [these calls] were a challenge for the umpires and everyone else. Like so many times in life, you have to make an adjustment. And this seemed right for that.” Every sport has its need for technology. Tennis smoothly made the transition, Derek Fisher’s memorable .4 second shot against the Spurs states the case for basketball, and imagining football without replay seems archaic. The ultimate case for technology in sports, however, was made this year in Beijing.

It certainly was not in the National Indoor Stadium, where replay seemed to serve no purpose, other than to delay the proceedings. The case was made in the Water Cube. Everyone has been gushing over Michael Phelps’s eight gold medals, but consider this: If Michael Phelps was competing at the time of Mark Spitz (see note below), he would’ve had seven gold medals and a silver. Without the Omega touchpad timing device, no man, woman, or child would’ve correctly called the 100-meter Butterfly. Serbian Milorad Cavic would be the dragon-slayer, swimmings answer to the New York Giants. What everyone saw that night and what was right were different. If not for technology, Phelps’s hard work and dedication would’ve gone for naught. The world would’ve been robbed by one of the most impressive feats any of us have had the pleasure to see. Spitz would still be a record holder, but like Barry Bonds’s homerun total, it would’ve been a fraud.

During the 2004 ALCS it became clear that baseball needed instant replay. Even except for the Yankees and their fans were fortunate the umpiring crews got each call correct, but what it they hadn’t? Baseball would’ve lost out on the greatest playoff comeback in history. Human error remains a part of baseball, the ball will still roll through Buckner’s legs, curve balls will still hang, and A-Rod will still ground into double plays. The human error element will never be removed, it’s why we watch, but human error should never rob an athlete or a team of their achievements. The impact of this change may not be this year, but at some point a team’s success or failure will hinge on a call made right by instant replay. Purist or not, no one can argue when the calls are correct.

Note: I took a little bit of liberty with the facts. The touchpads used in the swimming pools were introduced in the 1968 Olympics, so Phelps’s results would’ve been correct. Before that, though, they used 3 men with stopwatches. So, if Michael Phelps was edging out Johnny Weismuller, there’s no way he wins the gold. Anyhow, you get the point. I just wanted to get the facts right, even if it took a little extra time to review.

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