Today Major League Baseball made it official, announcing that the umpires would be permitted to use instant replay to determine whether balls hit too close to the foul poles were home runs or just spectacular foul balls. The decision was a bold reversal after years of all sorts of factions within MLB fighting the encroachment of the replay technology onto big-league diamonds, and came after a string of several questionable calls earlier this season when the TV screens showed that the officials go their calls wrong. It will be a limited use of instant replay, as it should be; baseball has always been the most human of sports, a sport where the blown call is almost a tradition - albeit an extremely frustrating tradition, depending on whether your favorite team was screwed over or not. There's no need or desire for replay to be use to determine balls or strikes, or whether the runner beat the throw to second base or home plate. And yet, I'm not pleased about this move - or rather, the timing of the move.
Why? Because the change in the rules will not go into effect next April at the beginning of the 2009 campaign. It will go into effect on Thursday, amid the frenzy of some hot pennant races, some of which may have already been affected by iffy home run calls earlier this year, when going to the video tape was not an option. There's no retroactivity in play here - those past decisions still stand, even if the whole world now knows that they were plain wrong, and even if one of them may cost a team the playoffs. So what MLB has established here is what amounts to an uneven playing field within the body of a season - proving that even when baseball commissioner Bud Selig does something right (which hasn't been very often in my book), he still can find a way to muck it up.