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HARD DRIVES: NPB makes right call on video

by John E. Gibson (Jan 6, 2010)

Both the Central and Pacific leagues pushed through--with fastball velocity--the paperwork that got them off the fence when it comes to balls hit over the fence.

After a brief testing period last season, the leagues this year will introduce video replay to settle the debate that tends to erupt on controversial home runs.

Forget about those huddled masses--umpires, whose decisions have on occasion caused certain ill-tempered managers to pull their teams from the field and prompt agonizingly long delays.

Forget about the bitter feelings players, fans and coaches experience when the men in blue are left red-faced after games because TV monitors have verified their mistakes.

The CL announced its official decision to turn to video replay on Nov. 7, while the PL decided to put the technology to use on Dec. 11. Nippon Pro Baseball's all-time active home run leader told Hard Drives during last summer's trial period that the video system would only be good if it corrected mistakes.

"You don't want to take away a homer from a batter--that's something that's very hard to do in baseball," said Tuffy Rhodes, who has 464 longballs since coming here in 1996.

"Also, you don't want to cheat the pitcher if it's a foul ball, so I think it's a good thing," said Rhodes, who was released by the Orix Buffaloes this offseason. "In some ballparks, it wouldn't be bad because some fans can reach over and catch the ball. Whatever it takes--I think the game's already good, but I just don't want the games to be longer because of [replay]."

Rhodes, though, warned that too much tinkering might ruin something that comes with the charm of flaws.

"Nobody's perfect in sports, and there's not going to be anyone perfect in baseball. That's the irony of it--sometimes umpires call balls strikes and strikes balls. If that's the case, you might as well get a computer to call strikes and balls."

Back-to-back CL MVP Alex Ramirez was involved in a hotly contested drive toward the seats in left at Tokyo Dome in 2008 that was ruled a double. Replays showed a Hanshin fan might have reached over the wall to interfere with the ball, actually knocking it back onto the field of play in a Giants loss.

The next night, Ramirez stroked a homer to dead center--high into a fan-free and controversy-free zone kept empty to help batters see the ball--in a victory. But even Ramirez was a little skeptical about video replays during the trial period.

"Knowing the situation, everybody's going to want to go back to the TV replays and check the call and see if it was right.

"The umpires are not going to like that. Why have umpires then, right? It's hard to say if it's good or not good."

Ramirez also said it's difficult to predict the consequences of instituting replay.

"I think the players and coaches would take advantage of any situation just to go and check it," said the Yomiuri slugger, admitting he'd be the first one to say, "Hey, I want to see."

The system will have quirks, no doubt. But, as Rhodes pointed out, mistakes are part of the game.

According to a former PL umpire, though, the game of inches could become the game of angles.

"The umpires told me it doesn't work. They saw video replays but they couldn't agree on which [view] was better. So it doesn't work, I think. They don't have enough cameras," said Takeshi Hirabayashi, a nine-year veteran PL umpire who is now in Triple-A baseball.

Because of the layout of some ballparks, Hirabayashi admitted video will be helpful, but his attitude suggested the system was the equivalent of a meddling in-law.

"I think we need help for a home run or a foul ball or for some kind of very difficult call, or one that bounces into the stands or goes directly into the stands.

"They have many problems with the ballparks because we can't see sometimes. Tokyo Dome has a railing on the other side of the fence."

Yeah, yeah. The fact is everyone's knees quiver a little when something new is introduced. Get used to it. Make it work quickly and allow it to enhance the game.

Disputes might happen once a month, and not in every park in Japan. Harping on the flaws of the system won't make things any clearer. NPB has made the right call.


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