Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Play it Again, Joe West

Humans watching humans playing a human sport.

I am a baseball conservative and a baseball purist. My positions are two-dimensional and trivial to guess. I hate the designated hitter and I do not think Barry Bonds deserves to go to the Hall of Fame.

I do not apologize for my simplicity, for the baseball diamond is two-dimensional as well. Unlike any other sport in America we look to baseball for the simplicity, naivete, and innocence elsewhere celebrated only in childhood. Therefore I believe my perspective is warranted.

There is another issue against which I am predictably knee-jerk. This issue is that of instant replay. In recent years baseball has started to follow football, tennis, and others in admitting the use of instant replay to determine "what really happened." So far it has only been admitted in one limited, high-leverage situation: the question of whether a home run was really a home run or not. But starting next year the use of replay will likely expand, and one assumes in the future it will expand some more.

I hate instant replay. I hate it even more than I hate blown calls by umpires. But its advent is hardly surprising given the zeitgeist.

How often have I heard the complaint that ours is an overly litigious society. Well, a challenge by a team's manager to a call is effectively a lawsuit. This is a qualitative difference from the old state of affairs in which the manager could come out and kick up a cloud of dust shouting his face Phillies red, but the call as called would stand immutable. With every challenge we bring the weariness of the courtroom onto the ballfield.

Second, ours is an age that highly prizes empirically-determined objectivity. The subjectivity housed in an umpire arbitrarily bestowed with authority does not withstand for one second the scrutiny of our sensibilities. Cameras are supposedly objective, despite the fact that multiple cameras positioned at different angles frequently imply contradictory conclusions and the fact that video must be interpreted by an observer subject to the same quandaries of authority and subjectivity. At any rate, replay certainly gives us collectively more confidence that we all know "what really happened," and that the ruling in the game reflects that consensus. That confidence is what we are looking for.

Finally, ours is an age that ironically verges on the misanthropic. Previous generations may have had a low view of humanity because of the Doctrine of Sin. This idea was tempered by the idea that humanity was made in the Image of God, and God so loved the World, and so forth. Current generations have a low view of humanity because of computers, and this lowness is not tempered but rather reinforced by a materialistic understanding of evolution. Gary Kasparov's defeat at the no-hands of Deep Blue was only the tip of the iceberg. We refer to "humans" not as noble dust animated by the spark of Divinity, but as a shorthand for members of the species homo sapiens.

Just look at Wikipedia. The entire thing is written to be species-neutral, a ridiculous charade given that all of its readers are human. The page for "Human" ought not begin with, "Humans (variously Homo sapiens and Homo sapiens sapiens) are primates of the family Hominidae, and the only extant species of the genus Homo..." but rather with, "You are a human, stupid!"

Without intending to the encyclopedia literally addresses the superior machine intelligence we expect will succeed us in our office as King of Terra Firma. We see no reason why it shouldn't! We agree that evolution has left us with all kinds of quirks that just aren't rational and all kinds of weaknesses that we can engineer a better solution to. We pave the way for our own obsolescence, not just in the realm of engineering but also in the realm of philosophy.

Let the machines officiate over machine sports. I will take the ignorant, loud, biased, ornery, and overweight umpire over them any day. I come to baseball to acknowledge, experience, and celebrate my humanity. I do not need it to kick me back into the dust.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Even before replay, calls did not stand immutable. Perhaps the most famous example was the "shoe polish" incident, in which the manager presented the umpire with irrefutable evidence (shoe polish on the ball) of an incorrect call.

I see replay as simply being in this tradition. Now we have evidence to resolve a few close calls indisputably, and so when a manager wishes to argue, he simply appeals to that evidence.