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May 21, 2014
Replay Cameras Undermining Trust in Human Judgement, a Relational Loss
 
You need to be a subscriber to, or purchaser of, The Wall Street Journal to read Robert J. Petrella's heartfelt critique of the use of instant replays, now, God help  us, in baseball. In today's Journal, Petrella, who is identified "as a research scientist and physician in Boston," calls this one for umpiring over technology. And bless him for that! We have to be willing to place our trust in agencies other than technology or, as in the case of baseball, we'll "strip the game of the tonic of human discretion, and that will be a greater loss."

Why should an umpire stand out in the sun, or perhaps the drizzly rain before a game is called, if a replay camera is only going to negate a call a team manager disputes, and maybe the umpire has been off by a millisecond or two? A camera can detect that, while a human eye possibly can't. So do we turn baseball over to cameras? And if so, why not to pitching or batting machines?

Ridiculous, you say. Sure, we won't do without human pitchers or batters. But that leaves the umpires standing out there, only to be disputed in frame-by-frame snatches when an angling manager chooses.

"Television," Petrella writes, "has changed professional sports, not just baseball but football, hockey and other games. Multiple-angle shots in slow motion, and then in high definition and super-slow motion, have led to more complicated and strictly enforced rules — because the plays have had to be more precisely defined for the technology to be meaningfully applied...The introduction of replay review is another step in a process that is trading the human element in sports for precision."

In relational terms, that's a travesty. We need to trust in an umpire's professionalism, more than a manager's gamble on frame-by-frame vindication. Take me out to the old, pre-replays ballgame. And thank you, Robert Petrella, for saying so.   

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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