Several times in the last two months, Commissioner Bud Selig publicly stated that “no one” is clamoring for more instant replay in baseball. He made this comment to a sports and society conference in Wisconsin in late May. He repeated it in when he spoke to the Baseball Writers Association of America during All-Star week. And he reiterated it just yesterday on a sports radio show. Selig’s position confounds many of fans not merely because we support expanded instant replay in baseball, but because we know many others, including well-regarded baseball writers and analysts who do, as well.
Selig’s view of “no one” became more clear in yesterday’s remarks when he told the Waddie and Silvy show:
We do a lot of polling. I talk to a lot of fans. I get a lot of mail every day and I answer every piece of mail here. Guess what guys, I get almost no letters, calls or thoughts on Instant Replay. By the way and I say this and I don’t want it to sound, we’re setting attendance records.
Let’s put the question of polls aside for a bit. We conducted our own poll – indeed, it’s the basis for this post – and we’ll get to those results in a few. But first, the notion that Selig receives letters, reads them, and responds in writing is charming, in a 1950’s kind of way. The fact that Selig would even mention the letters to a sports radio show as a justification for maintaining the status quo demonstrates how out-of-touch he is with the fans and technology.
Second, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement approved last December specifically provides for expanded instant replay on fair/foul calls and on plays involving a potentially trapped ball. Why would owners and the players’ association negotiate terms of expanded instant replay if “no one” wanted it. They wouldn’t. And it’s foolish to suggest otherwise.
And now to our poll.
I drafted the poll questions with the help of FanGraphs writers, but made the decision not to run it as a FanGraphs poll. We wanted to try to capture the views of all sorts of baseball fans, and not just those who visit FanGraphs. Several of us at FanGraphs tweeted the link to the poll, and it was retweeted further from there. I also posted the link on Facebook and asked my Facebook friends — who run the gamut from not caring about baseball at all (gasp!) to being serious fans — to share the link on their pages. Many did. And so on. And so on.
In total, we received 832 responses. Are the responses a representative sample of baseball fans around the country? I hope so, but don’t know for certain. There is a good deal of diversity in the answers, though, which suggests that the poll was worthwhile and should be taken seriously by the Commissioner, the owners and the players.
In Question 3 we asked respondents to identify those methods of instant replay currently used in major league baseball games. The options provided were:
- Safe/out at a base
- Calling balls/strikes
- Whether a fly ball is a home run
- Fair/foul balls
- Catches v. trapped balls
The vast majority of respondents (96.9%) correctly answered that instant replay is currently used to determine whether a fly ball is a home run. Another 15.1% responded that replay is used to determine if a ball is fair or foul. Some respondents noted in the comments that there was some confusion on this question because determining whether a fly ball is a home run sometimes involves questions of whether the ball was fair (and thus a home run) or foul (and thus not a home run). This is a fair criticism of the wording of the question. We included the question because we thought it was important to understand how knowledgeable the respondents were about instant replay in baseball. Despite the poorly worded question, the responses suggest that the overwhelming majority of respondents understand the limited circumstances under which instant replay is currently used: to determine if a fly ball is a home run or not.
A strong majority of respondents favor expanded instant replay, but opinion is not unanimous. Just under 14% of respondents are either neutral on the question or do not want to see replay expanded beyond it’s current use.
Here’s the most interesting part. Support for expanded instant replay cuts across the fan spectrum, from those who watch only a few games per month on TV (what might be called the more casual fan) to those who watch more than 20 games per month on TV (what we might call the more die-hard fan).
Here’s a chart showing how those groups line up on expanded replay. The colors represent how many games the respondent watches on TV in a typical month, as follows:
Gold: 0-5 games per month
Blue: 6-10 games per month
Purple: 11-15 games per month
Orange: 16-20 games per month
Green: More than 20 games per month
The majority of respondents want to see instant replay used to resolve disputed fair/foul calls and disputed catch/trapped calls. This is consistent with what the owners and players’ association agreed to in the new CBA. The additional wrinkle would be adding instant replay for review disputed safe/out calls at a base. A majority of respondents are in favor. Selig and his staff appear opposed to that. And we don’t know where the owners and players’ association stand.
The notion that “no one” strongly supports expanded replay in baseball is simply not true. Casual fans and die-hard fans support the idea of expanded replay, particularly for fair/four calls and catch/trapped ball calls. Many also want to see replay used for disputed safe/out calls on the bases. A minority is willing to go so far as to use replay on balls and strikes. That idea seems a long way off.
Questions about how to implement expanded replay are beyond the scope of this article. I’ve written elsewhere that MLB would do well to model its expanded replay program on the National Hockey League’s centralized video review system. If that doesn’t pass muster with the umpires’ union, then MLB could employ a video review umpire at each ballpark, much like is done in the National Football League. And there are other options, as well.
But let’s stop having a discussion about whether there is support for expanded instant replay in baseball. There is. And to suggest otherwise is nonsense.