First establish a Korean system
The replay review system is so far working well for Major League Baseball in its first year of expanded adoption. But we cannot import the American model just because it is successful there. The MLB installed 12 cameras on average in home stadiums of 30 baseball clubs. A TV broadcasting van usually comes with 12 to 15 cameras for live feeds. If two broadcasters are there to cover a game, the number of cameras in one stadium could well reach over 40, eliminating any gray area in a ball game. A stadium fitted with cameras had to spend 30 billion won ($29.4 million) extra just to meet the requirements of the new system, or 1 billion won on average for a baseball club.
A Korean ball game is full of gray areas. There are no fixed cameras in stadiums. One TV broadcaster usually covers a game. Instant replays obviously cannot be as reliable as in the American system. There is also the problem of a time gap. Telecasting of ball games is often taped instead of being fed live. If there is no live video footage, the reliability of instant replay use could be questioned.
The KBO has been collecting ideas from baseball teams on the rules for instant replay review in the hopes of coming up with a Korean system based on our infrastructure and resources. Most agreed on the need for an affordable and practical system. But they differ on how many challenges should be allowed per game and how much they should rely on TV screens. More time is needed to reach a consensus.
Few baseball fans would oppose the employment of video referees. But digital eyes can serve as a reliable substitute for the human eye only when the environment is ripe.
Let’s assume a review request has been made on a tag play. A base runner on first base made a run for second base and the catcher on the defense team threw the ball to second base. If the infielder received the ball with plenty of time to tag the runner out, there would be no dispute. But if the base runner slides into the base at full speed to touch the base with his foot, the infielder will try to avoid his feet and try to tag the runner on his knee. The runner’s feet could touch the base before the tag has been made. Strictly speaking, the runner is safe, but the umpire can call an out. Players usually comply with the decision. When referred for replay review, however, the call could be reversed. The shortstop could get hurt if he attempts to tag the runner no matter what. The runner can risk being hurt if he attempts sliding into the base headfirst.
About 47 percent of the calls were reversed in the MLB. The bench is cleverly exploiting the system. When faced with a dubious play, the manager slowly walks onto the field to address the chief umpire. His replay team rushes to review the tape. If it doesn’t look like a missed call, the bench coach motions the manager to come back. He gives a thumbs-up only when a mistake is deemed almost certain. Few challenge calls unless they are sure of them being reversed. Overturn rates are fewer because challengers use the replay system only when it is in their favor.
Korean baseball teams currently refer to replay reviews to determine whether a hit should be counted as a home run or a foul. The replays are not 100 percent reliable. Baseball leagues, players and fans all have to understand the Korean reality and try to come up with a practical solution.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is secretary general of the Korea Baseball Organization.
By Yang Hae-young