As the old and quite well worn platitude goes, “Be careful what you wish for.” I am, of course, referring to Major League Baseball’s replay system. A system that has plagued Baseball games with one thing that is assuredly something we need less of, standing around. I could go into the data, but that doesn’t prove anything. Since the times that MLB records as replay stoppage time isn’t real, all what MLB records is the time it takes the umpires in New York City to deliberate on a call. It is not the actual stoppage time that the fan endures, which is likely twice as long, if not longer. This is not good. If there is something that MLB needs less of, it’s time standing around doing nothing.
There is a lot of time in Baseball where there isn’t “action”, at least in the typical sports sense. This doesn’t mean though that nothing is occurring. In fact there is plenty happening. The mind games being played with the pitcher and the batter. The cogitation between the battery on pitch selection. The fact that every moment in Baseball something can happen. This though does not exist during the purgatory, or maybe it’s hell, like state that is instant replay. Nothing is happening. If I were able to create an embodiment of what nothing is, it is replay. Replay is the manifestation of nothingness. That thing that Sartre was, probably, talking about in Being and Nothingness, this is it(1). Alert the philosophers! We have found nothingness. And it is not good.
I want to enjoy the game of Baseball. I want to see the mind games. I want to have that feeling of anticipation, and so do a few million other people. What I don’t want to experience is mind numbing boredom. I’m watching Baseball to escape that ever pervading feeling of nothingness in the world, which is exactly what I am feeling during the abominable replay. Why are we doing this to ourselves?
In America, and probably other nations too, we have this fascination with being right. If something happens and it is wrong, it should be amended, and we should take every avenue necessary in order to fix it. Where does this stop? If a single in the fourth inning is reviewed should the umpire take as long as necessary to get the call “right”? Should he take 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30? Now obviously after a few minutes, in an ambiguous situation, the umpires will just say that the “true” result is inconclusive and let the play stand, so basically in the same position we were in before the initiated replay. Where does this logical slippery slope end? Should we install censors on the bases and in the fielders gloves so we can determine within a nanosecond who was truly safe? Should we have the strike zone we see on TV call the balls and strikes and remove the home plate umpire entirely? Whatever normative solution you want to propose we can see that they all arrive at the same end. Removal of the human element.
I don’t even want to get into the mess of removing the human judicious element of the game. Should we just supply last years stats into a win predictor and, with regression models of course, run a few thousand simulations and see who wins? We know there is no such thing as infallibility when humans are around. We even have a phrase with our species in it, “only human”, to imply fallibility. We establish a bond within the stadium complaining about incorrect calls and we boo he who erred. Umpires are a people we love to hate. We even create social media pages at ones we especially abhor (2). What is imperative is to never lose this. To always cherish. And to never waver in our eternal battle against machine, even if this means an incorrect call…or two.
Baseball is beautiful, Baseball is magnificent. Baseball is also perfectly imperfect. So what if one call every few games is incorrect? Baseball is the only popularly played sport where each stadium’s on field dimensions are different. Baseball is the only “American” sport where the defense dares to control the ball and pace of play. Baseball is a diamond in a rectangularly dominated world.
Our Baseball brethren, the Japanese, have a concept in their culture called wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is concerned with precisely the title of this post, the beauty in imperfection(3). Maybe this is why we have a shared affinity for Baseball. We see that not everything must be perfect and from imperfection we can find true beauty in an already imperfect world. Let us stop this nonsense of absolute certainty and love what is already perfect about the game, that it isn’t.
I’ll see you at the (imperfect) Ballpark.