Instant Replay in Baseball

“Of course I like it,” Maddon says. “I like flat-screen TVs with high definition. I like air conditioning in my 1956 Bel Air. I like computers. To just bury your head in the sand and just reference old-school all the time is really a poor argument.”

– Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon 

I couldn’t disagree more. And, while some who disagree with instant replay might appeal to slowing down an already slow game, or make “Tevye-esque” appeals to “tradition!,” my appeal is of a more spiritual nature.

Hubert "Dickey" Ballentine Baseball card You see, in 1960 my grandad, Hubert Habib “Dickey” Ballentine founded the Mathews-Dickey Boys Club with Martin Mathews in St. Louis, MO. An Amateur Baseball Hall of Famer, with a 30 year semi-pro career and lifetime batting average of .350, my grandad was passionate about baseball. He was also a theologian. As a Moslem Imam of the Fahamme Temple, my grandad was very knowledgeable on spirituality, life and culture. Those from St. Louis will attest to that.

Instant Replay vs. Life's Bad CallsWhile he was coaching youth baseball, he had an idea for using the sport to teach life lessons to help keep young boys off the street. And so, he remortgaged his house (a few times over the years) to put up the money for what became a St. Louis Institution: the Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan pinned the Civilian Medal of Freedom on my grandad (and Mr. Mathews) for his efforts. To this day, I meet men from St. Louis who a ever-grateful for what my grandad taught them – using the game of baseball.

In his mind, and in mine, baseball is the greatest game ever played because it is perfectly suited to provide life instruction. It is that rare game – that only game – that is 100% individual and 100% team.

While Satchel Paige is known to have cleared the field to face batters he knew he could get out (he still needed a catcher), in baseball it takes a team. Yet, unlike basketball, you cannot give the ball to LeBron James every time down the court when the game is on the line. Unlike football, you cannot simply put the game in Peyton Manning’s hands or hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson. In baseball, you are part of a team, but when it’s your turn, you and you alone must step to the plate – you must rise to the occasion.

And that’s part of growing up. That’s part of what America used to be about: rising to the occasion. And that’s baseball.  And that’s life.

So, when I cringe at the idea of instant replay being brought into Major League Baseball, it isn’t because I’m some dinosaur who wishes to return to the stone-age. Rather, I see it distorting the beauty of the game and the lessons it yields.

Instant Replay in Baseball is a bad idea because there is no instant replay in life.

Maybe I understand this better as one from the marginalized class. Society (i.e. our Umpire) gets calls wrong all the time. There’s no instant replay.

When a child’s murderer goes free, there’s no instant replay. When a woman’s rapist gets off, there’s no instant replay. Hell: when a Presidential election is miscounted, there is no instant replay.

And, as tragic as those life situations are – and they are tragic – we must continue on as best we can, understanding that sometimes Society misses the call.

As the other major sports moved to instant replay, we lost that sense. We are more apt to dwell on the unfairness of life and become victimized by the bad calls of society. Because we see (and because our children are conditioned to see) the instant replays of the life we idolize in the sports world, we subconsciously expect that life will be so kind to us: that we will be granted a “challenge flag” when someone “gets over on us.” We hope there will be a “booth review” that will give us a second chance to make that “winning score.”

Yet, Society is not so gracious. And, the reality of instant replay creates a false reality for life. That is why I believe instant replay in baseball is a bad idea.

Baseball is the last of the major sports, which can be used to teach young people the parameters of the game of life. The reality that sometimes there are “bad calls” helps us to continue on – understanding that the season is long and this one game doesn’t have to break our chances. We understand that a .300 hitter is one of the Greats, even though he failed seven times. Even if all seven of his failures were because of “bad calls,” he will still be considered one of the Greats.

Instant Replay in baseball is a bad idea because it gives us the false notion that perfection exists in Society. It doesn’t. And it won’t, until we leave this society for the Great Society with God. In the meantime, we must learn to respond…to endure…to overcome the “bad calls” of life. And since sports are our Society’s major instructor to our youth, baseball – without instant replay – remains the last hope for imparting the spirit to overcome life’s “bad calls.”

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