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John E. Gibson

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HARD DRIVES: Video replay needs no 'review'

by John E. Gibson (Feb 2, 2011)

High drives to outfield walls spring fans out of their seats. They cause beers to spill, snacks to drop and excitement to rise.

Whether or not the ball clears the fence, a well-struck high fly gets the juices gushing--including those of players, coaches and staffs.

The instant gratification of the longball is as pure as the oohs and aahs generated with the here-it-is-try-and-hit-it fastball.

But the techie generation scored a victory last year when officials here adopted a video replay system like that used in Major League Baseball in the interest of getting calls correct at its 13 main parks.

Nippon Pro Baseball had seen its share of disputed home runs through the years, but this was something threatening to put a changeup where a fastball should be.

Naturally, umpires frowned on the idea, arguing they didn't need technology playing a role in their jobs. That's understandable because it's human nature--and no one likes the taste of crow.

But, just as in the States, the move was an effort to curtail mistakes from having weighty impact on the outcome of games.

A Hard Drives assessment after one year of replay: We seem to have invited more debate of dingers than we saw here in the '90s and the aughts combined.

The historic first video replay decision came on the fifth day of the season--the second Central League game--when the Tokyo Yakult Swallows' Aaron Guiel socked a shot off Norihito Kaneto in the ninth inning of a 10-5 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome.

The drive was first ruled a double, but umpires came back from the video room and overturned their call, giving Guiel his second longball of the game.

The very next night, the Pacific League had its first home run dispute. The Chiba Lotte Marines' Tsuyoshi Nishioka slugged a shot to center in the seventh inning that was ruled a homer.

The umpiring crew took time out to look at the replay and decided the call was right. The Marines eventually rallied for three runs in the ninth in what turned out to be a 6-5 walk-off win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

The two leagues combined to produce 1,605 homers overall last season, with the CL bashing 863. Amid all that excitement, only 18 times in the CL and eight instances in the PL required the assistance of video review.

Calls were overturned in 15 of the 26 reviews, meaning umpires essentially batted .346 in close home run rulings.

That's not high enough to match a good season from Ichiro.

Tokyo Dome--notorious for its visually impairing outfield backdrop--a green wall backed by green seats--led the way with six disputed homers in 73 games.

Five of the six rulings in question at the Big Egg were flipped.

Yokohama Stadium had four disputed homers--three calls overturned--and reviews took place three times at Hiroshima's Zoom-Zoom Stadium.

There were two reviews each at Koshien Stadium and Kyocera Dome, just one at Nagoya Dome, and no longballs were disputed at Jingu Stadium.

In PL games, Sapporo Dome and Seibu Dome and were tied with two replays each, while Chiba Marine Stadium, Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome, Kyocera Dome and Skymark Stadium all had one apiece.

All whining aside, mistakes happen.

In the States last season we saw Detroit Tigers hurler Armando Galarraga have his perfect game blown up by a blown call at first base. Just like hitters and pitchers fail in their quest for perfection, umpires constantly miss calls.

The human element--or better yet, the mistake element--is so much a part of the game that there is probably some stat-head somewhere with a line for blown calls. But let's not get carried away by video replay. Slowing down the game in an effort to perfect it would create more flaws.

The head of umpiring said he wants to make sure reviews take no longer than three minutes. Let's hope he also keeps video replay limited only to home run disputes for the time being, and let games continue without further interruption.

Video replay did the job for which it was intended; we need to just sit back, enjoy the games and let it work.


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