Galarraga and Why Instant Replay Is Bad for Baseball

Safe! Or, really, out.
Julian H. Gonzalez / Detroit Free Press-Landov

Galarraga! Baseball's 21st-ever perfect game was cruelly snatched at the last minute from the grasp of Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga when umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called the runner safe at first on what should have been the game's final out. Galarraga's teammates were apopletic; Joyce was apologetic, telling reporters, "I cost that kid a perfect game." Galarraga himself was amazingly decent about the whole thing, saying Joyce "probably felt more bad about it than me." Supporters of bringing instant replay to baseball immediately used this as ammunition, with calls going out all over the Web to bring a camera in to do an umpire's job.

Which would be a mistake. There's a huge argument to be made against instant replay in all sports, and it's this: the essence of sport is the pursuit of transcending imperfection. Why we play, why we watch, is for that one-in-a-million chance that something goes incredibly, impossibly right. If we want perfect-every-time scripting, we'd go to the theater. Yes, this is coming from a fan of a Kansas City Royals team that won its only World Series, in part, because an umpire blew the call, but that's just the point: sometimes that happens. Sometimes the stupid kid catches a ball for a home run right over the head of the right fielder ready to make the out. Sometimes your throw kills the seagull. Sometimes disco demolition night goes horribly, horribly wrong. It doesn't matter.

Then there's the aesthetic argument, which is why—after athletes sweat and fight it out in a very human arena—should the contest be decided by some deus ex machina that just descends from above and declares, "Beep! This is who won"? It's the same reason no one really cares about chess anymore; everyone knows the computer always wins.

Especially since, even with replay, sometimes we don't even really know the result. Michael Phelps was awarded one gold medal in Beijing on a race that was so close, even the pool's electronic systems couldn't really determine the winner; basically it was flip a coin. Judgment call.

Just like this one.