As one who has spent much of his life engaged in playing, coaching, studying, officiating and viewing virtually all competitive sports, it is reasonable to assume that I have not only an interest in athletics but also a smattering of knowledge. Several who read this column may remember that while in high school, I organized, managed and played for my own summer baseball team.
In addition to a long-standing and intimate baseball experience, I played basketball, softball, corkball, tennis, wrestled and threw the shot and discus. In none of these did I win any laurels,but I participated. During my four years at the University of Missouri (1953 to 1957), I became reasonably adept at refereeing basketball for Anton J. Stankowski, the no-nonsense and disciplined director of intramural athletics, and coached high school and junior college wrestling at Kemper Military Academy in Boonville.
In later years, I coached youth football , baseball and basketball at Marine Military Academy (where I was also the athletic director) and umpired or refereed virtually every sport but soccer. I don't offer these experiences as a self-gratification, I do so merely to establish a frame of reference for the opinion that follows.
By now, it should be abundantly clear in our spectator sports that any time an umpire or referee appears to have blown a call, particularly when it influences the contest's outcome, there ensues a continuous din to add that particular competitive event to those already governed by electronic replay. The 2009 World Series saw the home run subjected to this review, while this season alone featured controversial officials' judgment calls in World Cup soccer play as well as Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga's losing a perfect game to an umpire's blown call at first base.
Predictably, there occurred a cacophony of pleas and demands for instant replay — even the president chimed in, saying the blown baseball call dramatized the need for electronic review. By and large, the most intensive hue and cry emanated from sportswriters and sportscasters whose bread and butter are the controversial, debate-sparking issues that generate argumentative discussion, freeing them from the mundane regurgitation of statistics and second-guessing of managers and coaches.
However, I am not only unalterably opposed to tacking on yet another phalanx of cameras to review officials' calls, I am also in favor of scrapping most of the instant replays which have insidiously permeated much of our sports. I offer two fundamental rationales in support of my opinion, which I suspect will resonate with a majority of those who enjoy athletic competition.
First, we can all agree that football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, et al are played by human beings and, as such, are subject to the common human frailties, misplays, judgmental errors, mental lapses and lack of skills we have all grown to accept. Why then must we hold the umpire and referee to a higher standard by second guessing his or her honorably arrived at decision, made in the heat of the moment?
During the course of any contest, the players will make far more errors, mistakes and bonehead plays than will the officials — they are not afforded the opportunity for a "mulligan" — so why show up the umpire/referee? One of my earliest memories of baseball is the late, great umpire Bill Klem, who said "I never missed or made a wrong call — in my heart." If we desire "zero defects" perfection in athletic contests, they should be played and judged by computers--otherwise the integrity and the human failings of the arbiters should be respected.
The second and perhaps most irritating heartburn I have toward instant replay is that it is not instant. Instead it is a time consuming, utterly boring period of inaction and loss of momentum for the contestants. I ask you, is there anything more boring, other than watching paint dry or an Al Gore oratory, than waiting while football referees view a disputed play from every conceivable angle and confirm the original call 90 percent of the time?
Do we really wish to see this annoyance added to other sports? As an example, the leading criticism of baseball as a spectator's sport is the length of the games as the prolific employment of relief pitchers, the constant adjustment of batting gloves, the breakage of bats and increased grandstanding by players and managers has added upwards of an hour to a game that once took but a couple of hours to complete. Do we really need to tack on instant replay (instantly consuming 5 to 10 minutes) to that which is already a factor in diminished attendance?
Admittedly, many out there are looking for perfection, a peg to fit every hole; nevertheless, we are better served with playing the games as they were meant to be and the officials "calling them as they see them" while getting booed for perceived missed calls. After all, are they not games, and are not games meant to be fun?
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.