Instant Replay, Golf and the Perfect Game That Wasn’t

The sports talk shows in Michigan are awash with discussion of the perfect game that wasn’t, and the need for instant replay in baseball. The general consensus seems to be that Galarraga should be awarded his perfect game, and that baseball should institute instant replay. It’s apparently not just hometown boosterism, either. The Wall Street Journal, among others, has called for exactly that.

One of the arguments I have heard frequently from local sports pundits in favor of baseball instant replay is that all of the major sports, except for golf, use instant replay to get the calls correct. I’ve also see a number of golf bloggers say the same thing. But they’re wrong about that. Professional golf does have instant replay in that they use television replays to get the calls right.

A recent example of that came at the 2010 Verizon Heritage, when Brian Davis called a penalty on himself for touching a twig on his backswing while in a hazard. Rules official were called in, and long moments passed while Slugger White conferred with the guys in the trailer over whether Davis did indeed touch that twig. From the PGA Tour press transcript on the incident:

Q. You say you looked at the TV?
SLUGGER WHITE: Yeah. It was good, Mike Shea was in our trailer, and I guess they had a good shot of it. I couldn’t see it. And it showed it that he did.

That’s instant replay. The Tour apparently also keeps an official in a television booth just to keep an eye on things (I’ve got a call in to the PGA Tour to confirm the exact role of the television booth official). The emphasis seems to be on getting it right, though, rather than on calling penalties.

Graeme McDowell at the 2010 Honda Classic called a penalty on himself for touching water on his backswing, but being unsure, got confirmation from television replay.

In March of 2010, Michelle Wie was hit for a penalty for grounding her club in a hazard, after taking a shot from some shallow water. She claimed that she was trying to keep her balance—an act which would be permissible. But after reviewing the play in television, officials decided that was not the case.

There also are apparently legions of golf fans who call the PGA Tour when they believe they have witnessed an infraction of the rules on television. And on a couple of occasions, their calls have resulted in penalties.

A notorious incident occurred in 1987, when Craig Stadler put a towel on the ground to avoid getting his knees dirty when taking a swing from that position. Television viewers called the Tour and pointed out that kneeling on a towel constituted “building a stance” and thus a rules violation. Twenty four hours later, Stadler was disqualfied, costing him $37,333.

In 1991, during John Daly’s PGA Championship run, television viewers complained to officials that a rule concerning the line of the putt had been broken by caddy Squeaky Medlin. His birdie four on the 11th was in question because some thought they saw Medlin ground the flagstick near the hole. That same year, television viewers reported a Paul Azinger rules violation that cause him to disqualified from the Doral Ryder Open.

So does baseball need instant replay? I think so. I am very much a traditionalist, but since every play of every game is broadcast and endlessly dissected, replay should be in place, if only to protect the umpires.

The Galarraga incident would be an easy way for MLB to institute instant replay. Commissioner Bud Selig could give Galarraga his place in history, and then immediately institute a replay system for the remainder of the year.

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