Introduce it immediately

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Introduce it immediately


Song Jae-woo

Korean baseball fans are estimated to number around 7 million to 8 million a year. A game on average attracts more than 10,000 fans. Tens of thousands tune in via televisions, radio, the Internet or digital gadgets in order to not miss a game during baseball season. Korean fans have become commentators themselves. Broadcasting technology allows them to catch missed calls. Even in the stands, the audience checks their smartphones for frame-by-frame reviews. If fans are this prepared, we can imagine how scrupulous the manager and coaches should be. Digital gadgets are banned in the dugout, but they still can check slow-motion replays of live broadcast feeds.

It is absurd not to allow a permanent presence of video referees. Allowing a blatant missed or mistaken call from the umpire ruins the fun in a sports competition and undermines the credibility of a professional baseball game. MLB was the last of the four major North American professional sports leagues to implement the instant replay review system. Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig refused to have digital referees to challenge the traditional role of umpires for many years. After a feasibility study led by baseball legends Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, 30 Major League Baseball clubs and umpires’ associations unanimously agreed to the broad use of instant replays and displays of replays on the ballpark scoreboard starting from the 2014 season.

American umpires are notoriously hard-nosed. They do not tolerate challenges even to obviously wrong calls and rarely reverse their decisions. Kicking dirt and shouting in umpires’ faces were regular scenes at U.S. ball fields. But umpires dig in their heels and kick out complaining players and coaches. Those days are ending. With high-definition hindsight available, umpires inevitably have to give into reasonable conclusions after such irrefutable evidence is presented. Fans and players cannot be happier.

We, too, must employ this system, hopefully from the July 18 All-Star match. If questionable calls continue to ruin the sport, baseball could lose the confidence of the public. How can a sport expect to expand its fan base if most audience members question the results of a game?

Of course we cannot expect to equip our stadiums with cameras that allow high-definition monitoring from every different angle like in America. First, we can’t afford them, and second our stadiums are not big enough to house so many cameras. For now we should be content with live footage from TV cameras. MLB also refers to both its own fixed cameras and broadcasting cameras for accuracy. Disputed plays may not be 100 percent cleared. But we can be content with correcting mistakes that are clear from TV telecasts.

In the United States, all instant replay reviews are examined by an umpire stationed at the Replay Command Center in New York. Upon a review request, field umpires confer with their control tower in New York. Of course we cannot dream of a multimillion-dollar video room and system like in the United States. Why should we anyway? Domestic umpires are now more open to video reference. A human eye can only discern 10 to 12 frames per second. There is no shame in acknowledging limitations to human capacity and seek technological help for better judgments. Umpires are rarely criticized for mistakes when they are required to overturn their decisions upon a video assessment.

Replay reviews and overturned calls have brought new fun to watching ball games in the United States. It takes about two minutes for officials to come to a decision. The break does interrupt the flow, and it is preferable to an unpleasant scene of shouts between the manager and umpire. Thanks to technology, human errors are no longer part of the game. The system has helped ease collisions between clubs and umpires. Video helps to protect umpires on the field by building confidence in them. Nearly half of the games until this season finished without one challenge.

If we are set on it, we should act immediately. If we drag our feet, it may be too late because our fans may not be that patient.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a commentator on MBC Sports Plus.

By Song Jae-woo

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