If the names Don Denkinger and Jim Joyce ring a bell, you know why we have instant replay in sports. The two former MLB umps are part of MLB history – for the wrong reason.
Denkinger famously blew a call at first base in game six of the 1985 World Series when he called Kansas City Royals pinch-hitter Jorge Orta safe on an infield squibbler. Orta, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with the St. Louis Cardinals up 3-2 and on the verge of closing out the Series, was clearly out. With two outs in the inning, the Royals scored two runs, won the game 4-3 and won game seven the next night. As any Cardinals fan will tell you, Denkinger’s gaff cost St. Louis the World Series.
On June 2, 2010, with Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga one out from the 21st perfect game in MLB history, Joyce, like Denkinger, missed a call at first base. Joyce ruled Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald safe on a ground ball to short when everyone in the ballpark and watching on TV knew otherwise. Joyce, acknowledged as one of the best umpires of his era, will forever be remembered for that blown call.
In both cases, instant replay would have rectified an obvious error, something the umpires, players and most fans would have welcomed. Unfortunately, MLB didn’t adopt replay until 2008 and only expanded replay to include calls on the bases in 2014. Hence, Denkinger and Joyce will be the answers to trivia questions for eternity.
Football was the first team sport to adopt replay, using it for preseason games in 1985. The NFL began using replay during the regular season in 1986. The league has tinkered with the system frequently since then in the hopes of making the game “better.”
But this season, not a week has gone by without at least one controversial call, mostly involving what constitutes a “catch” or “possession” of the football.
Game officials and league wonks in the league’s replay center have become the storyline, rather than the players and the game, thereby defeating the purpose of replay.
Replay was adopted to overturn clearly erroneous calls and there’s no doubt the technology exists to do that. But replay opened Pandora’s Box. Games are delayed interminably while too many plays are reviewed ad nauseam. If replay has taught us anything it’s that on-field officials get the call right most of the time.
Therefore, the argument goes, we should just get rid of replay. Scrap the experiment and stick with the call on the field. But that argument is short sighted. It isn’t the technology that we should be frustrated with, but the people who use the technology.
Rather than jettison replay, we need to reign in the humans who are making a mockery of it. Let’s begin by revisiting the original goal of replay - overturn the calls that are obviously wrong. If we need a reminder of what those look like, we need only ask Don Denkinger or Jim Joyce.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.