Use of replays limits errors, improves play

As the old saying goes, to err is human, to forgive, divine.

But England’s football team probably didn’t feel too divine on the way back from the World Cup after officials botched a call in the Brits’ match vs. Germany, a ruling that denied England a tying goal in a game they would go on to lose.

Lack of divinity was on display when Mexico and Argentina’s footballers nearly came to blows at halftime after Argentina was unfairly allowed to score from an offside position directly in front of Mexico’s net.

Before then, Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga and Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce, to their credit, approached divinity in the way they each handled the fact that Joyce blew a call at first base with two outs in the ninth inning that cost Galarraga a perfect game.

But however the athletes reacted, there’s no hiding the fact the whole world knows, courtesy of the video replays, that officials erred in all of those cases.

The disputed England score? The ball bounced at least two feet over the goal line after striking the underside of the crossbar.

Argentina’s goal? The striker was waiting for the ball about three feet behind Mexico’s defenders.

The baserunner? The ball nestled in Galarraga’s glove as his foot easily beat the runner to the first-base bag.

No one debates these facts.

But ask if those replays should help get those calls right, and, well, discussion ensues.

Here’s another saying, this one from Samuel Johnson: “As all error is meanness, it is incumbent on every man who consults his own dignity, to retract it as soon as he discovers it.”

So, how did FIFA and Major League Baseball respond to those mistakes?

FIFA, the international organization that runs soccer/football and responds roughly as well to the press and public as the Vatican, dealt with the blown call in the Argentina-Mexico game by insisting that replays should not be shown at stadiums.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s response to the Galarraga situation was to mumble about reviewing replay policies, and then find the nearest sandbank and inserting his head.

I guess we should expect that attitude from FIFA, which refuses to accept that a clock might be the best way to time games, instead letting the referee arbitrarily add minutes. And then allows teams to celebrate extra-time scores endlessly while their opponents fume.

In a poll on msnbc.com, about 94 percent of respondents said FIFA should use replays to determine whether goals should count or not. I’m with the majority: In a sport that averages about two goals per game, officials must get goals right.

But FIFA says replays would disturb the flow of games. But if FIFA were really worried about that, it would prevent drama queens from rolling around like they have been struck by sniper fire after gentle fouls.

FIFA must make three changes:

• Allow teams to challenge goal or no-goal rulings, at least at the World Cup level. FIFA can cap the number of challenges to prevent frivolous requests.

• Start doing post-game video reviews to check for intentional deception of officials. I’m thinking of the Ivory Coast player who grabbed his head like David Ortiz had hit his face with a Louisville Slugger after Brazil’s Kaka strolled past him. FIFA could hand out yellow cards after the fact for those who tried to cheat; that will stop the nonsense and many delays.

• Use a real clock. Stop it when goals are scored, players are hurt or are flopping around on the ground trying to kill time, or teams are substituting.

Meanwhile, the replay debate is less one-sided in baseball; to be fair, baseball now allows replay on whether balls are home runs or not.

No poll about baseball replay will find 94 percent of fans in favor. Of course, 94 percent of baseball fans probably couldn’t agree that beer should be served cold, but still.

The arguments against replay in baseball are that games already run too long, that use of replay would create too may interruptions, and that the human element, umpires’ judgment, should be retained. As an online columnist put it, “errors are part of the game” even for officials, and that all we should ask of them is “impartial and honest effort.”

OK, first we should be remember there is incontestable video evidence that in the past 25 years blown calls may have changed the outcome of at least two postseason series.

In the 1985 World Series, with St. Louis leading Kansas City, three games to two, and Game Six, 1-0, the Royals’ Jorge Orta was incorrectly called safe at first with two outs in the 8th inning; replays showed he was out by a half-step. He eventually scored the tying run, and the Royals won the game, 2-1, and then won Game 7.

In 1996, in Game One of the American League Championship Series between Baltimore and New York, the Orioles led, 4-3 in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium when a fan reached over the right field fence and pulled a Derek Jeter fly ball into the stands. It was incorrectly ruled a homer, as replays showed. The Yankees won the game in extra innings to take a 1-0 lead and won the series, 4-1.

I’m guessing the Cardinals and Orioles and their fans would have welcomed brief delays for a challenge of those calls.

As for the human element, that best “impartial and honest effort,” why can’t it include technology? It’s not like Alpha Centaurans gave us video technology. We humans invented it. Why can’t we use it to produce the best possible results?

No, balls and strikes shouldn’t be reviewed, and maybe not tag plays. But force plays and fair or foul rulings could be added to home runs. Maybe each team could be allowed to question one call, and if the challenge is correct, they may challenge again later.

After all, there is plenty of evidence that not all calls are right, and a proven way to get them right.

And, as Arthur Guiterman has advised, “Admitting Error clears the Score, And proves you Wiser than before.”

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