--“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, alt., Albert Von Tilzer and Jack Norworth, 1908
The old ballgame is about to get very, very new. Beginning with the 2014 season, Major League Baseball will use instant replay to settle disputed plays on the field. That’s right—high tech is coming to the dusty old diamond. The era of the umpire, that oft maligned, all too human judge of fair or foul, out or safe, strike or ball, is going, going, almost gone.
Picture this. Next May on a sweet and warm Saturday afternoon, Boston Red Sox jack rabbit base stealer Jacoby Ellsbury bursts off of first base, sprints for second. The pitcher pitches, the catcher catches then stands tall, fires a rocket to the shortstop, who gracefully snags the ball, sweeps his glove down in a blur, tags Ellsbury as he slides, puffs of dust all around. The crowd waits. The umpire finally raises his hand…“SAFE!” he barks.
But then the opposing manager protests. Action stops dead. The call goes out to a windowless room in New York City where steely eyed technicians rewind and watch the play four, five, six times. A perfect verdict, confirmed by colored pixels that can’t ever be wrong, is rendered. Ellsbury is out?!
Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
So let me lodge a protest at this acquiescence to the gods of perfection. It’s not that there is something inherently bad about wanting to get a call right, just right. I get that. It’s not nostalgic whining at the sullying of the national pastime. Steroids, multi-million dollar contracts and $200 nights at the ballpark have done that already. I protest because I mourn the loss of imperfection and human judgment inherent in a very human umpire, making his best call in the moment, most of the time getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong.
Because that is all of life in a way: human life filled with mystery and ambiguity and questions, blown calls, stumbles, flaws, and mistakes. I don’t always color inside the lines—do you? The magic of life is found not in perfection, in always getting it just right, down to the last decimal point, but in playing, sometimes messing up, sometimes succeeding, always trying.
I know it is just umpiring in a game at stake here, but imagine a life ruled by the need for ironclad answers. No wiggle room. No shades of grey. We’d never risk loving another because who wants to take that chance at being wrong, getting hurt? We’d reject faith in God because who can finally prove exactly, that the hand of a higher power is at work in our hearts and world? We’d never have kids because who knows how they’ll turn out?! We’d never risk anything, scale a high mountain, dream up an invention, write a novel, believe we can make a difference, because who can finally know if these attempts will triumph?
Even God blew a call one time. A story. The world was wicked. God opened up the sky and it rained and rained and rained, sparing none but Noah, his clan, the ark and the animals. But then realizing what that awful power had done, God admits to making a divine mistake, makes a rainbow, says: “I…promise to you and to everyone…every living creature that the earth will never again be destroyed by a flood.” No instant replay or do over. Just a promise to try again and maybe this time get it right.
So in our time on earth, let’s just play. Allow the game to unfold as it will. Sometimes, rarely, we will get it perfectly right. Sometimes, usually, we will get it awfully wrong. But always have faith. Trust that being safe or out matters much less than breaking for second base and then seeing what happens.