Nothing is Really New

There has been a lot of talk about baseball’s new replay system now assisting the umpires on tough or questionable calls. The same basic concept is used in football and basketball. While it was made possible due to the fact that virtually every game is televised by someone and the ability to look back at plays is relatively easy, the fact is that the concept was not invented by some generation Xer or later. Taking a second look at close plays is not a new idea.

Horse racing has been using a photo to determine winners in close races for years. And in an article I dug up from a Sport Magazine from April 1954 shows baseball was thinking about something similar. That was 60 years ago. Let that sink in.

Baseball was not thinking about using television replays though. Not only was there very little televised baseball in those days but the video recorder had not been invented yet. There was no technology to be able to replay anything.

But the concept used in horse-racing was considered. It was to use sort of a photo-finish camera to record close plays. The Sport article centered on a close play at third base in the 1953 World Series in which Gil Hodges had been called out. Movies of the play later indicated there was strong reason to think the umpire missed the call.

There was a move building when sportswriters started remembering other calls from other years that were shown to have been wrong once the movies of the plays were processed and produced.

Obviously using movies would not work, but quick develop instant cameras would. Polaroid actually had their models out by then, but they still took about a minute to produce a photo. (The Polaroid camera was invented in 1947 and sales to the public had begun in 1948, but those cameras were lacking in the lens department.)

Yet the arguments both for and against using a replay still cam may sound very familiar 60 years later.

Who would decide whether the play was close enough to warrant taking a look? If it is the umpire he had to admit he is not sure whether he called it right or not. If it was done on appeal by one of the managers wouldn’t there have to be some limits? Otherwise games would routinely last three hours! (Go ahead and laugh at that concern from 1954 since 60 years later they DO last three hours or more routinely.)

A big concern in 1954 was that the authority of the umpire would be compromised and that was a bad thing. “Either the man in blue is in charge of the ballgame or he isn’t. If he is in charge, then he can’t be subjected to the second-guessing of a camera,” said one opponent of the idea.

In the end the article advocating staying with the status-quo. Polaroid’s technology was available, but the needed lenses for those products were not yet and the debate on how long it would take to get a photo of close plays closed the debate.

However, as we know the idea was not dead. It just needed time and major innovations in the way we can record the action and play it back for the basic ideas of yore to be brought forward again. Sometimes the best ideas are not new ideas, but ideas who must simply wait for their time to come.


About gregclucas

Author, "Baseball-Its More Than a Game" available through, or by order. Veteran sportscaster with extensive play by play experience in MLB, NBA and college sports. "Houston to Cooperstown- The Houston Astros' Biggio & Bagwell Years" is available at many Barnes and Noble stores, Costco, Sam's Club and other selected locations. Also can be ordered through Amazon as hard copy of Kindle.
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