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Grip on Sports: No matter which sport we are watching, we can’t escape the grasp of instant replay anymore

Mariners’ Kyle Seager holds up the ball after Reed Johnson was initially ruled out at third on a force in the ninth. However, a replay review overturned the call. (Associated Press)
Mariners’ Kyle Seager holds up the ball after Reed Johnson was initially ruled out at third on a force in the ninth. However, a replay review overturned the call. (Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s almost impossible to escape the grasp of instant replay in sports these days. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Read on.

••••••••••

• While watching the Mariners’ game last night – a 4-1 loss to Houston – there was a late-inning play that had some consequence. And it was decided by someone we couldn’t see thousands of miles away.

It looked as if M’s pitcher Wade LeBlanc had picked off the Astros’ Derek Fisher at first base in what was then a 3-1 game. That’s not how first base umpire Adrian Johnson saw it, however, calling Fisher safe.

The Mariners asked for the umpires to review it, so it went to replay. And, after a lengthy pause, they took off their headphones and signaled Fisher was safe. 

He later scored a somewhat-meaningless tack-on run. But that’s not the point. 

Those of us who watched at home (and on the big screen in the ballpark) supposedly saw what the New York-based replay umpire was viewing. And it sure looked as if Fisher was out.

Our opinion doesn’t matter, of course. Neither do those of the guys in blue on the field, though their original call is the benchmark from which the replay guys have to work. No matter what the umpire in New York decided, neither manager had a right to argue the call. You do and you are ejected.

Which is probably merciful. After all, standing on the dugout steps, watching the replays on a screen the size of aircraft carrier and seeing something different than the guys making the decision has to be frustrating. 

The rest of us are getting used to it.

Replay is everywhere, in every sport. I’m a bit surprised Little League doesn’t … wait, it does, at its World Series. 

The idea is to get the call “right.” But that word is subjective. Right and wrong always is in every walk of life. Yet the goal is admirable. Any game or match can turn on any play. Making sure that play was adjudicated correctly is crucial. And an unrealistic goal.

Sure, some sports have it down right. Pro tennis for one. At most events the in-or-out call is done in seconds – and seems to be correct 100 percent of the time. But the sport seems made for video replay. After all, it’s a simple yes or no question. The ball is on the line or it isn’t.

That part of baseball replay would be just as simple, if there were cameras above every inch of the foul line. There aren’t, of course, and that leads to some interpretation based on angle or some other variable. It’s that interpretation – on every call – that has to be dealt with in the game’s replay system.

Did the tag arrive before or after the foot hit the bag? Did a piece of leather on the fielder’s glove touch the runner a half-second before his pinkie grazed the plate? 

Is the 11 minutes it takes to figure it out worth it?

Like right or wrong, that’s subjective. Though neither is something I would want decided by a guy sitting in a dark room thousands of miles away.

•••

WSU: The Cougars practiced again yesterday and Theo Lawson was there. He spoke with receivers coach Dave Nichol, who has worked with a variety of other assistants in his time with Washington State. … Theo also has video of his post-practice conversations with Nichol, coach Mike Leach and players Marcus Strong, Robert Valencia, Trey Tinsley and Taylor Comfort. … The Cougars formally introduced new women’s basketball coach Kamie Etheridge yesterday and Theo also was at that media event. He has this story. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Oregon revealed plans yesterday for a Hayward Field rebuild, giving track and field a shiny new Nike-driven home. It looks pretty special and seems to be a sharp break from the past. … Switching to football, there will be some impactful grad transfers playing this fall. … What if Washington lost Jake Browning? Who would step in? … The Huskies’ Jen Cohen deserves a raise and will be getting one soon. … Utah needs a new athletic director. … Oregon has a new running back coach those of us around here know a lot about. … UCLA’s Chip Kelly sounds a lot like Paul Wulff in his early years at Washington State. … In basketball, a Washington transfer has found a new home in the desert. … Colorado has a new veteran on its roster. … Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle talked with the media yesterday. … Finally, the trial of the century, NCAA-division, is about to begin in Los Angeles.

Gonzaga: The Zags hosted Washington State in a wind-blown baseball game last night. Whitney Ogden was there and has this story from GU’s 7-4 nonconference victory. … We have an update on the Brandon Williams’ recruiting news. The sought-after point guard will visit Spokane on April 28, moving up his visit more than a month. It seems he wants to make a decision sooner rather than later.

EWU: Athletic director candidate Vince Otoupal was in Cheney last night and the current Utah Valley AD gave a pep talk as part of his job candidacy. Jim Allen was in attendance and has this story. … Larry Weir has more in his Press Box pod.

Preps: Despite the up-and-down nature of the weather yesterday, there was plenty of competition. We can offer roundups from softball, baseball, golf, soccer and tennis.

Mariners: Houston didn’t win the title last season without pitching depth. It showed yesterday in the Astros’ 4-1 win. … Ariel Miranda made the start. To make room for him on the roster, the M’s shipped Taylor Motter to Tacoma. … We are trying to keep up with the baseball-to-Portland news.

Seahawks: There are a lot of reasons behind the Hawks releasing Malik McDowell, quite possibly the worst first pick in franchise history. And the decision will have some financial ramifications. … Will Seattle pick a big receiver this time?

•••        

• Something was missing this morning. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Then I figured it out. There are no clouds in the sky. It may not be toasty warm today, but it is clear. And dry. Dare I say it? Is spring really here? Until later … 

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