Human element risked by replays

Instant replay. Two words you’ve probably heard plenty of times since Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga tossed a perfect game that wasn’t on June 2 at Comerica Park.

It’s an interesting idea, really. One that I thought about even more when a friend of mine brought up a potential trade the Tigers didn’t make last year to acquire Roy Halladay, who was coincidentally perfect four days before Galarraga surged onto the national stage.

What if we could use instant replay to fix our mistakes, just like NFL, NBA and NHL referees do? What if on April 20, BP could have looked at the videotape, seen the Deepwater Horizon explosion occur, diagnose the problem and repair it?

Consider further implications. What if we could use instant replay to prevent car accidents, medical mistakes, or bad job interviews? Wouldn’t everything run a lot smoother?

Conventional wisdom would say yes. Obviously we don’t have the luxury of replaying our lives, so the conversation is somewhat abstract, but I imagine most people would like the benefit of another look whenever and wherever it is possible. Essentially, those people would say, “Use everything in your power to get the call right.”

They’re wrong. Using instant replay to overturn calls or, in the abstract, to undue everyday mistakes, lowers the bar. If a referee has the benefit of taking a second, slow motion look at a play, it provides less incentive to get the call right the first time because they have a safety net. It makes perfection a luxury rather than a necessity.

Instant replay should be used for criticism after the fact. We should use it to judge how good our umpires really are or how good a doctor or driver really is.

If video becomes part of the referee, human talent is marginalized. We don’t get better if we don’t make mistakes. If BP could have used instant replay to prevent the oil spill, it would have saved much of the Gulf Coast, but it wouldn’t yield the upcoming safety lessons.

An instant replay world would have fewer mistakes, but it would be synthetic and missing the wonderfully human moments mistakes can create.

If umpire Jim Joyce used instant replay to fix his mistaken call, Armando Galarraga would have the perfect game that is rightfully his, but he wouldn’t have taught millions of kids a lesson in dignity and class that today’s world has forgotten.

It comes down to what matters more: fixing mistakes we wish we hadn’t made or learning the lessons that make us better. You can give a man a fish or you can teach him to fish. Some may not agree, but for this columnist, in both cases, the latter is far more appealing.

Moments like Joyce’s blown call are part of life. They make things interesting and they are going to happen. Life isn’t always fair and it shouldn’t be. But, it can be better if we are better. No human error? No thank you.


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