It happened again the other night, at Kauffman Stadium. One more game where Major League Baseball does itself, its teams and, most importantly, its fans a shortsighted and unnecessary disservice. The text message from a friend at the Royals game buzzes in as a reminder:
He was safe right???
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My friend was at the game, Section 115, Row M. Paid around $50 for the ticket, $10 for parking, $25 or so more for a few beers and food. And he had to ask someone in the press box whether the umpire made the right call. People at home on their couches also had a better look than my paying friend. Those with access to a television saw the replay; those who paid to get in the stadium saw bupkis.
All because of an MLB policy that’s outdated, self-harming and insulting to fans.
The Royals spent $8.3 million for what was in 2008 the world’s largest high-definition video board. It was the centerpiece of the stadium renovations, enough of a draw that the club made sure to unveil it a year before the rest of the changes — sort of a pardon-our-mess gesture of good faith.
And they’re not utilizing it.
The Royals bought themselves a Ferrari, and are driving it like a tricycle because MLB blocked the roads.
Most of the blame here goes to MLB for a stupid policy borne out of fear of the umpires’ union. But some of it rests with the Royals, who don’t even show the replays allowed by MLB’s silly rule.
This comes up now because MLB has an easy chance to fix all of this — and sources inside the league office indicate they’re considering it.
MLB limits replays to once, at real speed, but not during an argument over the play and not in a way that might start an argument or create a negative reaction from the crowd.
In practice, pressure and insecurity from umpires has created pressure from the league office that means most stadiums won’t show anything but the most mundane replays.
Umpires claim it’s a safety issue, unaware or just uncaring that NFL crowds are larger, rowdier and drunker but paying fans see as many replays (often in slow motion) as time allows. The NBA does the same thing, even as fans are much closer to the action and without a wall separating them from the referees.
This means the gorgeous video boards baseball teams have spent millions on are basically going to waste — used largely for generic replays, stat dumps, and between-innings entertainment like ice cream-eating contests.
So, no closer look at Greg Holland freezing someone on strike three with a fastball on the black (maybe it was off the plate?), no replay of Alex Gordon’s diving catch (maybe it was a trap?) and no second view of Alcides Escobar going in the hole to throw someone out at first (maybe the runner beat the throw?).
In effect, baseball’s own limitations are giving fans a reason to stay home and watch for free in a time when affordable and accessible technology has become a more imposing threat on ticket sales.
It’s lunacy, a multi-billion-dollar business putting a governor on the enjoyment of its product because the umpires have too much power and have somehow perpetuated this myth that stadiums will become riot zones if fans see a replay.
The policy grows sillier by the minute, as technology moves forward and baseball — on this issue — remains stuck in black-and-white.
In keeping most paying fans from seeing what really happened, baseball has contrived a different version of reality. Now, players in the dugout often scramble to a television in the batting cage or tunnel to see a replay. Guys on the field have learned to listen or look for fans in the concourses gathered around TVs to see if a call was blown.
And umpires have created an unspoken rule where — in addition to a few choice curse words and insults — players and managers are immediately ejected for dropping the word “replay” in an argument.
Now, a gift: baseball has a chance to correct its mistake. Baseball has a chance to make its in-stadium product better (and more profitable), to acknowledge the existence of advancing technology and to treat its fans like adults (and like the NFL and NBA treat their fans).
The solution is so simple. When baseball formally announces expanded replay for close calls this offseason, it can add in an oh-by-the-way manner that it is lifting all restrictions on what teams can do with the video boards they spent so much money on. Expanded replay should ensure that missed calls are corrected, so why not give paying fans a better view?
Everybody wins. Even the umpires, most of the time.
My friend’s text message the other night came after Billy Butler hit a ground ball to Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. Eric Hosmer was on first base, running on the pitch, and watching live it looked like he may have beaten Seager’s throw. The game was tied, so it was a crucial call.
I was in the press box, and did what paying fans couldn’t. I watched the TV replay. Turns out Hosmer was out. The throw beat him. The umpire got the call right.
But fans who paid to watch couldn’t have known that.