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Former chief of the umpires loves replay, hates challenge systems

Jan 25, 2013, 4:20 PM EDT

Joyce blown call

I now have a man-crush on Mike Port, who served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of umpiring between 2005 and 2011.  He spoke with Jayson Stark of ESPN about replay. The two big takeaways: (a) he thinks replay has to happen now and really should have happened already; and (b) challenge systems are dumb:

A challenge system? Why?

“What is the point of replay,” he wondered, pointedly, “if not to get all calls correct? … I think a challenge system would lead to unbelievable confusion and would miss the point of instituting replay. You would be amazed how many managers, coaches, and players are not conversant with the rules … As a basic premise, if the purpose of replay is to get calls correct … then let’s try to get ALL correct within certain categories.”

Great points, which we’ve made many times here.  If you want to correct errors, correct errors. Don’t make a game out of it.

Port goes on at length about how Major League Baseball has so far addressed the replay situation. Suffice it to say, he find their approach quite curious.

A good read and a lot of good thoughts from a man who both knows the system and wants to see it improved.  Check it out.

  1. The Dangerous Mabry - Jan 25, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    He’s just right about everything.

    The only odd thing is I don’t remember hearing him say any of this while he was in office. I wonder if he’s changed his mind on the whole thing, or if he just didn’t have a channel to air his thoughts publicly at the time.

    Either way, nice job, Mr Port. Here’s hoping MLB listens to what is certainly an informed opinion.

  2. historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    …and then this wise man handed the reins over to Joe West…

  3. smoochytherhino - Jan 25, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    Baseball, because it has so many lulls in the action, is the one sport where a replay system done correctly (moreso even than football because of the hurry up offense) with an extra ump in the booth and no ridiculous trips to the clubhouse by the on field umps. So long as replay is never ever used for balls and strikes there’s no reason why Baseball can’t have a seamless replay system.

    • ireportyoudecide - Jan 25, 2013 at 4:57 PM

      No replays for balls and strikes, instead the computer should call balls and strikes to get it right 100% of the time instantly. I know I know “Human Error” clap clap clap “Human Errror” clap clap clap. The technology is available to get it right instantly every time on balls and strikes, use it.

      • anxovies - Jan 25, 2013 at 6:25 PM

        Why go halfway? Just replace the players with avatars and let the computer do the whole game. No messy human players to deal with, avatars work for free, and no disgusting tobacco juice or unsightly crotch-grabbing. Oh wait…

      • hlang - Jan 25, 2013 at 7:32 PM

        I totally agree. I’m amazed at commentary and analysis that accepts and implicitly endorses umpire-specific strike zone and even praises umps who are at least “consistent” in enforcing their idiosyncratic interpretation of the rule at the plate. The argument from the absurd extreme (“replace players with robots too then”) and from misplaced sentiment (“human error is part of the game”) are both drearily stupid. It is possible to get balls and strikes as well as other calls right 99% of the time now. Do it. People who enjoy watching umpires can go to a little league game.

      • The Dangerous Mabry - Jan 25, 2013 at 8:38 PM

        Anxovies, you’ve gone for the reducto ad absurdum and for that I salute you. The thing is, for me, and I assume for baseball fans in general, we watch the game to see players play. We love watching a great matchup between pitcher and batter. We want to see if the speedster can steal second with the cannon-armed catcher behind the plate. What we aren’t tuning in to see, however, is whether Joe West will call the neighborhood play at second. Whether Jim Joyce will make a call down the line. The spectacle of baseball is the players and the game; not the officials. Any time you’re talking about what an umpire did, something has gone wrong.

        So in a nutshell, removing umpire error (or for that matter umpires) doesn’t lessen the game in any way. They’re not why we watch. Removing the players on the other hand, removes the whole spectacle.

  4. natslady - Jan 25, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    Craig, 100% agree. Pointy-ball has made a mess of it. The game is slowed, and players are picking up challenge flags and hiding them!!

    Institute a system that is simple and accurate. Nats have the smartest manager in MLB, so I am not saying this lightly. Don’t get the managers into a “challenge system.” Preserve our great game. If it can be improved, ok, but don’t try for perfection.

  5. sparty0n - Jan 25, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    An official in the booth that can “correct” the calls without a challenge process from the dugout.

    Problem solved!

  6. misterchainbluelightning - Jan 25, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    I’ll call balls and strikes perfectly 99% of the time, I won’t be influenced by players or managers. Ill go out and do my job consistently and near perfectly every game, and never become part of the story and allow the players on the field to decide the game. You just have to give me a chance

    – The Perfect Ump

    (aka a computer)

    Bring em on

    • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 6:53 PM

      Boooo! You need glasses! Booooo!

    • jcmeyer10 - Jan 26, 2013 at 8:08 AM

      “Hey Ump! What, do ya got dirt in your lense?” – fan heckling a robot umpire.

      • misterchainbluelightning - Jan 26, 2013 at 1:18 PM


  7. firstcauseproject - Jan 26, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    A challenge system can be implemented without it being problematic; if nothing else, you can restrict challenges to certain types of plays, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. As for the
    ‘human element’ enthusiasts, as long as the game is played and officiated by HUMANS, there will always be a HUMAN element. Seriously…people act like it’s rocket science, and it’s pretty annoying.

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