If you arrived at the Rogers Centre a few seconds late to last Saturday's Jays game, you might have been puzzled by the scene near the pitcher's mound. Brian Tallet, Toronto's starting lefthander, was surrounded by a group of concerned-looking club employees, all of whom seemed to be fixated on Tallet's pitching hand, which the hurler was shaking in apparent pain.
If you were watching on television, you would have seen replays to indicate that the pitcher's momentary woe was caused by the preceding line drive that caught Tallet on his non-gloved paw. But if you were like me, a member of the ticket-buying public who didn't see the play clearly as it happened, you might have been perturbed by the lack of in-stadium recap. The Jays boast a gorgeous three-story-high Jumbotron commanding attention in centre field, but it didn't carry a replay of Tallet's brush with the liner. In fact, the Jays' video board rarely carries a replay of consequence. And this hasn't gone unnoticed by keener eyes than these.
"We talked about (the lack of replays) this weekend when we were watching the game. All I can tell you is, I'll follow up on it," said Paul Beeston, the Jays interim CEO. "We should have a little discussion of that with our scoreboard operators."
There's only so much Beeston can do, of course, because Major League Baseball, along with their brethrens in progressive thinking at the National Hockey League, essentially ban the in-venue replaying of any play that's remotely controversial. Baseball prohibits the video rehashing of any portion of play that could "incite" fans – which is an awfully broad policy that seems to have led the Rogers Centre scoreboard operators to show very little. The NHL prohibits the in-arena replaying, not only of referees' calls or non-calls to which the crowd will likely have a negative reaction, but of fights, instigating penalties and disputed goals under video review.
This corner is sympathetic to the plight of umpires and referees who would rather not be booed by fans enjoying slow-motion-assisted hindsight – and Beeston said baseball's umpires have been influential in shaping a replay policy that hasn't changed much since the first low-resolution videoboards appeared in the 1970s – but it's unacceptable that the paying enthusiast can't get basic information that's served gratis to the TV-watching masses. (It's not just in-venue replays that are scarce. Try getting an injury update, which are readily reported to TV audiences but rarely shared with the in-attendance throng. In an age in which teams would rather use their video boards to run promotional pap, sports-related information is often treated as non-essential.)
Still, a bad call's a bad call. Officials have to live by the skill of their whistle. And this corner can't think of a precedent in which the playing of a replay started a riot in one of the major North American sports.
Some sports leagues, after all, value their fans enough to allow contentious footage to be displayed to the unwashed. The NFL allows replays to be shown at the discretion of the club; when the game is stopped for a video-replay challenge, the only caveat is that the stadium big-screens can only show the replays from the TV-network feed. The spirit of the NFL's policy, in other words, is that the fans in the stadium should see exactly what the fans at home are seeing. And the NBA allows plays that could be construed as controversial to be replayed precisely once, which is better than zero. The CFL, meanwhile, discourages clubs from replaying controversial plays, but leaves it to the individual club's discretion.
Technology, if you're savvy enough to own it, has already made this kind of in-stadium censorship moot. Anybody with a handheld and a Slingbox, or no end of other configurations, can tap into the TV feed from his seat. But a lot of folks don't own such bells and whistles. What's irksome about the policy is that it treats the game-going fan like a second-class miscreant who can't be trusted to see the high-definition truth.
Beeston said he thinks the Jays should show more replays in general – and hear-hear to that – but he said the club won't violate Major League Baseball's edict, which is not currently under review.
"It's been discussed many, many times," said Beeston, "and I won't say it will never be changed, but it's unlikely to be changed."