Will instant replay turn the “church of baseball” into a fundamentalist religion? Killing the Buddha asks:
There is a long and often ridiculous history of comparing baseball to a religion. Rule-bound, slow to change, cyclic, and timeless; an assembly of people presided over by men in funny outfits, who say what is safe and what is out; a space sealed-off from the rest of society, yet definitional to a national culture: the comparisons aren’t too difficult to make. As noted in the movie Bull Durham, there are 108 stitches on a baseball, and 108 beads in a Catholic rosary. Coincidence?
Well, yes. It’s a coincidence (or a function of the exceptional divisibility of the number 108). Religious phenomena have plenty of overlaps with other products of human culture, but the whole game of “but is it a religion?” is obnoxious at best. None of which changes the fact that, when Major League Baseball announced last week that it was planning to introduce instant replay to games, thereby allowing umpires to stop play after a difficult call and watch the whole thing again in slow-motion, all I could think, with a tinge of sadness, was that a new, especially virulent kind of fundamentalism had arrived in America’s First Church.
Naturally, then, baseball is a technologically conservative place. Players use wooden bats. They chew tobacco instead of smoking it. They wear knickers. And umpires rely only on sight to make calls—aware, perhaps, in that way we so often forget to be, here in our modern world, that a kind of truth thrives in the realm of fate and subjective judgment, and not in the absolutes.