MLB’s Not-So-Instant Replay

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

So baseball,  you finally decided to use instant replay to your advantage. Just like everyone’s been saying you should for the last 10 years. Oh wait; you can only challenge certain plays? Oh, a coach only has restrictions on what inning and how many times he can challenge a play?

The rule changes, which are still waiting for approval by the Umpires Union, will (hopefully) be put into effect for the 2014 season.

The new system will expand the use of replay from only home run calls, to fair and foul balls, catches, and fan interference along all walls, not just in the outfield.  Baseball is also taking a page from football’s rulebook, awarding each manager a limited amount of challenges during the game (1 challenge in the first 6 innings, and 2 from the seventh inning on).

Sounds great. A huge improvement from what was in place already.  But still, it leaves a lot to be desired.  Why isn’t every play under review?  Tag outs are pretty cut and dry plays, as are hit by pitches, foul tips, and base running errors.

Making plays like this reviewable will significantly decrease the amount of players and managers who get ejected from a game for arguing a call, which will keep the integrity of the game from being effected by an umpire with a hot temper or a secondary agenda.

What happens in an extra inning game?  Those two challenges after the 6th inning aren’t going to be enough in the 14th or 15th with a one run game on the line.

I understand the concept of the challenge in football, a sport where you can spend hours looking over virtually every play from different angles and speeds, and come up with a dozen different outcomes. Forward progress, did the player’s knee hit first or the elbow, did the toe hit out of bounds before he gained control, were there 35 seconds on the clock when the whistle blew or 34. It would take ages to finish the game if every play was reviewed, and that why the league limits how much a coach can complain.  But even so, they review scoring plays and turnovers automatically, because they can significantly impact a game’s outcome.

But baseball on the other hand is pretty simple. So easy that by the time the next batter comes up to the plate TV and radio broadcasters have already accurately determined the correct call from in the both. So if broadcasters can do it, why doesn’t MLB have an official upstarts in every stadium that looks at the play between at bats or innings?  There’s usually a 30 second gap or so between batters, not to mention the 5 minutes between half innings and pitching changes.  That should be more than enough time for whoever’s upstairs to get the call right. If they find something wrong or questionable with any call it in to the field and the umpires can make the necessary adjustments.  If everything looks ok, the game moves on, end of story. Why does the league need this nonsense where the managers have to leave the dugout and ask for permission to review the play?

The two things that should remain unreviewable are balls and strikes, and check swings.  Both are 100% judgment call.  Something like fair or foul balls is fact, not opinion. But the second you have two strike zones (the official’s strike zone and the official strike zone) there’s a problem.

In all seriousness, I do applaud baseball for finally stepping to the plate and making some sort of change.  It needed to be done.  The league is adjusting at its own pace, and even if it takes baby steps to get there, I hope that they get it right on the long run.

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