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Instant Replay on the Bases Stinks

The Washington Nationals had a rally killed after replay showed Jose Lobaton's foot lifted off first base for a millisecond.

Here is a phrase you will hear about Jose Lobaton's foot while watching that video up there: "you just wonder whether or not it disengages from the bag for a split second." That phrase was uttered during a two-out, two-men on Washington Nationals rally in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Disengages…split second. Woof. Instant replay is generally very good; we should always try to get the correct call whenever possible. But man does it really get fouled up when we get to plays at the bases.


By now we all know what happened: Lobaton ventured a little too far from first base and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras tried to pick him off with a snap throw to Anthony Rizzo at first. Lobaton looked to have gotten back just in time, but his foot popped off first base for the slightest, and I mean the slightest of seconds, and replay officials determined that Rizzo had kept his glove on him during that slight second, and he was therefore ruled out. Rally over. Inning over. Basically game over.

This strikes me, a person with no dog in the fight, as a shitty way to do things. Technically speaking, yes, Lobaton was out. But come on, unless you are a Cubs fan, or you have Nats hate in your heart, it's got to leave a bad taste in your mouth. It violates the spirit of the play; Lobaton got back to the base before the combination of Contreras's throw and Rizzo's tag were able to secure the out. Then in an eye blink, his foot detached from the bag and reattached to it. There were precisely three million similar reviews during the World Baseball Classic that rendered what was an otherwise exciting tournament near unwatchable.

Replay review has been a great thing for all sports—even if turning it into a strategic element via the "challenge" does not really do anything to advance the "get all calls right" credo—but there are areas in each sport where replay borders on unworkable. Hockey's offside review. We still don't know what a catch is in football, so that's always a mystery on review. Determining the level of flagrant foul in basketball. And tag plays at the bases in baseball. All of these moments are unwatchable, one, because they generally take forever and, two, because they create circumstances where the sport becomes unrecognizable.

Does it really make sense that a hockey goal can be wiped off because two minutes earlier a guy's skate was barely offside? Two basic plays in football—run and pass—and we can't figure out how to define a catch. In baseball, you run to the base and if you get there before the ball, or before you are tagged, you are safe. That is what Jose Lobaton did last night, but he was technically out. In baseball, you are either safe or you are out. There are no degrees; so when you have to say "yeah, but technically," it might be time to rethink things.

I don't know how to fix this, I don't think you can really. I think we are just going to have to live with it. Just how pornography is the cost we pay for the first amendment, these unseemly reviews are the burdens we bear for the legitimate uses of replay. And they make you feel just as dirty watching them.