The invasion of the instant replay into professional sports threatens to remove one of the essential components of the sporting experience: the capricious effects of human error on the part of referees and umpires. This spring’s baseball season has seen the introduction of a silly system where a team’s manager can challenge an official call made on the field and the play is then remotely reviewed at Major League Baseball’s New York City headquarters by some faceless judges who look at the television feeds.
Because the technology exists to determine the truth doesn’t mean it has a place in a sport that celebrates the feckless and accidental. From robotic line judges in professional tennis to strike zone graphics, yes, we can make sports more precise and ostensibly more “fair” by taking the foibles of a judge or referee or umpire out of the equation. No more cries of a “We wuz robbed!” No more fist shaking at the Gods for punishing the home team so unfairly. The obvious blunders that rob pitchers of perfect games, the miscalls that cause spectators to have conniptions of disbelief as they watch the slow-mo replay and see what the officials couldn’t see from the field ….are nothing compared to the bullshit politics of the so-called “judged” sports like figure skating and gymnastics where performance is subjective and evaluated by judges with nationalistic prejudices and even the potential to be bribed (sorry, but any “sport” with judges and costumes isn’t a sport in my book).
A huge part of the emotional attachment between fans and sports is the human factor, that indescribable sense of magic when the players transcend the boundaries of human potential and go beyond themselves in a clutch situation and become legends or scapegoats. Sport, like war, isn’t about precision and standards. It’s about luck and happenstance and umpires who should go get their eyes checked. Baseball is the only sport with the concept of an “error” — a subjective judgement by the scorer. I think it needs to embrace the misfortunes of fate that happens when an umpire misses a tag, or calls a ball fair that went foul by inches. Technology has no place in a ball park.