Fall Classic is taking forever

CHICAGO– A ballgame that produced exactly one run lasted 3 hours, 33 minutes.

Compared to some of the commercial-packed, long-on ceremony-and-celebrity marathons that have clocked in at four hours and beyond this postseason, Cleveland’s 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of the World series felt like a sprint.

But there were five minutes we could have done without.

No, not comedian Bill Murray’s drawn-out, Daffy Duck-inspired rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” At least there was some comic relief

What we had in mind instead were the three instant-replay reviews. An overwhelming majority of fans believe the only thing that matters is to get every call right, even though that’s impossible — and never mind that it both changes and hurts the very games it’s supposed to improve. More on that in a moment.

The only one of the three replay reviews that resulted in the original call being overturned happened in the first inning, when Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks picked Francisco Lindor off first base. The two calls that stood both came in the seventh.

The first happened when Cubs catcher Willson Contreras threw to third trying to pick off pinch-runner Michael Martinez, who was called safe (both times) and scored soon after when Coco Crisp followed with the tiebreaking single. The second happened when the next Cleveland batter, Jason Kipnis, hit a grounder to the right side, dove into first base and was called out (both times).

The call on Kipnis looked just plain wrong. His arm clearly hits the base before the ball nestles in Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery’s glove. But that’s the problem when humans make the first and last decision, no matter how many camera angles are viewed in between.

Of course, I’ve been on the losing side of this debate for years — in every sport — and so it went again Friday night when I asked Cleveland manager Terry Francona whether he’d like to see more or less instant replay.

“That’s the question after a 1-0 World Series win?” Francona answered with a question of his own.

Well, yes.

“I think they’ve done a great job with replay. I mean, we all know what it is, and I think it’s made the game better,” he said.

Joe Maddon, his Cubs counterpart, was an even bigger booster.

“It definitely helps preventing the spike in the blood pressure, because you’re just able to ask them to replay it as opposed to running out there and arguing. So I like that component of it,” he began.

“There are certain parts about it that I think need to be addressed. For example, like when hovering over a bag and all of a sudden you say the guy came off the bag, something like that or the hand was above home plate … I’d like to see some adjustments, but I think overall it’s wonderful.

“Furthermore, I would imagine eventually YOU’RE GOING TO SEE IT CALL BALLS AND STRIKES (emphasis mine).”

Let that settle in for a moment.

Umpires were already in danger of becoming figureheads, stuck behind the plate to lend an air of authority more imagined than real, like the Queen of England at events of state, minus the tiara and jewelry. Count on it happening sooner rather than later.

Replay began in baseball in 2008, employed strictly at first to decide home runs. It was expanded significantly in 2014 to include plays at the bases, trapped balls and just about everything else, save balls and strikes.

While the average time it takes to review a call has varied — 1:46 during the 2014 regular season, then 1:51 in 2015 and 1:36 in 2016 — the number of calls overturned on replay have creeped up each year, from 47.3 percent in ’14 to 50.4 percent this past season.

There’s any number of theories about that incremental rise, and much of it centers on more and better slow-motion cameras at most ballparks and  managers’ willingness to use every challenge available to them. But there’s no doubt it’s led to a change in both the spirit of the game and how it’s played; nearly every fielder now holds his glove with the ball on the baserunner’s body for as long as possible, in the hope that at some point in the slide the camera will show the runner has lost contact with the base.

That’s been happening for as long as the game’s been played. But it’s only now, because of advances in technology, that it can be spotted.

“As much as it’s not my favorite play … it’s really hard for me to say it’s OK to be safe if you’re not on the bag and the glove is tagging,” MLB exec Joe Torre, whose duties include overseeing umpires, said at the last winter meetings.

“We’ll continue to have that conversation,” he added.

Good luck.

Major League Baseball is already wrestling with the pace-of-play issue and the guess here is that what Maddon called the “hovering” play is only the first of many unforeseen consequences.

Instant replay has already made the NFL and college football nearly unwatchable, and it’s made holding your breath at the last-minute plays nearly a requirement of being a football fan.

Try that for nine innings when a robot is calling balls and strikes.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org and https://Twitter.com/JimLitke .

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.