By Scott Barzilla

Sometimes it seems as if baseball has a problem of getting out its own way. Yet, the first few weeks of the NFL season prove that baseball is not alone in bad publicity. When you look at how sports officiated, the cardinal rule is that if no one notices you then you’ve done a pretty good job. If people are talking about you then you are in a heap of trouble. Now, people are talking about two plays in the playoffs that were miscalled.

When you think about it, two blatantly missed calls out of the dozens that get called throughout the course of a game is not such a big deal. Most of us would kill to be more than 90 percent accurate in our line of work. When umpires/referees miss a call it becomes a big deal. When one of those costs a team a game or a player a perfect game it is casts as human tragedy. It’s as if these players were refugees from Libya that lost half of their family to political persecution.

One of the things the NFL does well is get ahead of these things. While instant replay will never be perfect in any sport, the football folks do it better than just about anyone. Each coach is given two challenges per half and then given a third if both of their challenges prove to be true. Both the NBA and MLB have limited replay and fans seem to be screaming for more. Leaving basketball aside, let’s look at the major stumbling blocks to replay.

How do we determine what can be replayed?

I would say this would be pretty easy in baseball actually. Obviously, we don’t want balls and strikes replayed, but we could get to a day where there is no home plate umpire that calls balls and strikes. Take away balls and strikes and you get anything else as fair game. Out and safe calls seem to be the most common that are challenged, but you could have fair and foul and home run/double as well.

How do we keep the game going?

This is an issue in football because tempo and flow are so very important to momentum. In baseball, you get managers and other coaches arguing calls for several minutes at a time. What is the difference between that and a replay official reviewing a call in the booth? Again, the NFL has streamlined this pretty well, but a minute or two delay is well worth it to get the call right.

How would it work?

This is the bugaboo. A system similar to football would likely work best of all. Maybe you get a red rubber baseball a coach throw at the home plate umpire. You give him three challenges per game and he always gets one extra as long as his last challenge was good. You could always test it during spring training or during September when rosters have expanded. It would be interesting to see how many calls would be reversed.

Scott Barzilla

Scott Barzilla is the editor in chief at He is also the author of four books, including The Hall of Fame Index. The Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical innovation in 2011.

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