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The End of Umpire?

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But it is not true that cameras positioned around a ballpark can answer every question, or even be more definitive than are baseball's remarkably skilled umpires, who render judgments close to a play. And even if cameras could deliver certainty, it is foolish to think that all other values should be sacrificed to that one.

In the NFL, coaches' challenges, which trigger replays, contribute to the sense that a game consists of about seven minutes of action -- seriously: Use a stopwatch, and you will confirm that -- encrusted with three hours of pageantry, hoopla and instant-replay litigation.

Wanting to spare baseball from promiscuous use of replays does not indicate hostility to "change." Barack Obama promises "change" as though that would be a novelty in this nation in which tumultuous change is the only constant. Even conservatives do not (quite) believe that all change, of any sort or size, at any time, for any reason, is regrettable. The problem is, progress always goes on too long, leaving us waist-deep in unintended consequences. Soon we are saying "adios" to cherished familiarities. (It was a ballplayer -- Clay Carroll, a former relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds -- who asked, "How do you say 'adios' in Spanish?")

Baseball, like many sports, involves fast, muscular, semi-violent striving. There are inherent limits to how much precision is possible in enforcing rules. Or desirable: Human error is not a blemish to be expunged from sports, it is part of the drama.

Baseball probably will and probably should adopt replays, but only for the few "boundary" decisions. And only after considering how to make this concession to technophiles a prophylactic accommodation, one that prevents an immoderate pursuit of perfect accuracy until the rhythm of the game is lost and the length of the game is stultifying. People impatient for replays should remember the admonition from Johnny Logan, once a Milwaukee Braves shortstop: "Rome wasn't born in a day."

georgewill@washpost.com


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