FOX Sports isn't an outfit that's scared to dicker around with televised sports. They've tested all sorts of technological advancements out on the public before, with varying success.
Some stick and now seem hard to live without, like the floating first-down marker of superimposed magic in football. Some are flops, like the glowing hockey puck, which seemed like it came from a focus group that didn't watch hockey, and got approved all the way up the line by people who didn't watch hockey.
So when FOX announced that they were going to use military-grade thermal-imaging cameras to dicker around with baseball, a sport that people should actually care about, there was a 90% chance that it would be as annoying as an anthropomorphic baseball that explained baseball. It was hard to be optimistic.
The production crew tested the cameras out early and often. And they were mostly harmless.
Well, it wasn't all harmless, as that shot made me think that a dreadlocked game hunter from an alien planet was hunting Albert Pujols, and that if he were going to survive, he'd need to cover himself with dirt and mud from the pitcher's mound. I kept shouting warnings to Pujols through the TV. When you get over that, though, you realize that the technology is sort of interesting. As novelties go, it's interesting enough. I didn't know that the impact of a baseball on a foot would cause heat, for example.
Hey, be nice. I was an English major.
But that's all it looked useful for -- it was an inoffensive curiosity for FOX to dig out every so often. And then the first game of the World Freaking Series was affected by a blown call that was picked up by the cameras.
FOX couldn't have scripted it better. It wasn't a questionable call in the first inning, it was a call in the ninth inning of a one-run World Series game. Adrian Beltre was at the plate, and if he can turn around a Matt Moore fastball, it isn't crazy to think he could to the same with a Jason Motte fastball. We'll never know. He fouled the pitch off his foot, but the umpire incorrectly ruled the ball was in play.
It probably didn't cost the Rangers the game, but it might have. And there was no reason to. Within a few seconds, we all saw a little white spot on Beltre's foot. The umpire couldn't, and that put Texas one step closer to a World Series loss.
Here's where a nice paragraph would fit about the stodgy, crotchety old suits at MLB who are too stuck in their ways to change with the times. Sure, but baseball has introduced replay for home runs. It's not an all-encompassing replay system, but every so often umpires will disappear, chat on a phone, and come out with a correct call. And everyone loves it. No one thinks it's a bad idea to use replays on disputed home runs. Baseball evolved. Just a bit, but it's a start.
This technology needs to be in an umpire's repertoire. The information is so easy and quick to evaluate. Did the ball hit Beltre's foot? Yep. Took five seconds. Did (player) get hit with, or foul-tip, a pitch? That would also take five seconds. He doesn't have to disappear to check it out -- there could be an official somewhere in the stadium who could elegantly relay a message. It wouldn't lengthen the game by too much. It would still be a rarely used tool.
It needs to be a tool that umpires can use. It might have cheated the Rangers out of an extra pitch, which could have cheated them out of a base runner, which could have cheated them out of a run, which could have cheated them out of Game 1, which could have cheated them out of their first championship in franchise history. Likely? Not at all. But there's no reason for even a scintilla of doubt when the technology is so clear. I'd be surprised if this isn't the next step in replay expansion.
I, for one, welcome our new thermal-imaging overlords. Well done, FOX. Now cut it out.