We reply to replay

There are as many reasons for baseball to review close calls electronically as there have been blown calls by umpires.

There are as many reasons against as there have been loooong ballgames.

All these reasons are being debated today around water coolers — real and virtual — in the wake of Commissioner Bud Selig’s announcement Thursday that Major League Baseball will adopt a form of instant replay starting next season.

We asked Hardball Times writers to start the discussion. No surprise: They don’t all agree with each other. Nor will our readers, to be sure. You’re invited to chime in below.

Steve Treder:
Conceptually, I’m a strong proponent of instant replay. However, the proposed method of requiring challenges—similar to the NFL model—is definitely the wrong way to implement it. It should be the league’s responsibility to ensure that the calls are as correct as practically possible, not the team’s. It would have been vastly superior for MLB to adopt something more along the lines of the NHL model, in which replay officials monitor every game remotely, and call for a stoppage in play as appropriate to review questionable calls.

But then it wouldn’t be MLB, would it, if they didn’t find a way to mess up a good thing!

Joe Domino: It has plenty to do with getting calls right, but just like Steve says, it’s a bad implementation.

The NHL method is better. But something is better than nothing and this is a step in the right direction. The on-field umps themselves aren’t deciding the challenge, which is good.

Even FIFA, which moves like a snail, has agreed to goal cameras finally. This is the future in all sports and it is an improvement and a good thing. Get the calls right, even if the game lasts an extra three minutes. I rarely have anything better to do anyway, so I’m fine with that.

Derek Ambrosino For replay as well. A big problem with this proposed system is that it enables disingenuous opportunities for “gamesmanship” that use the desire to get calls right as a means to warm up pitchers, etc.

Other question: Is this the end of the “neighborhood play” and what does that mean, for good or bad?

Matt Kovach: Challenges go against the whole idea of the concept of an ump or ref.

This is a stopgap idea based on entertainment value and has little to do with getting calls right.

I wonder how they are getting the umpires’ union to agree to this …

Shane Tourtellotte: Observers were expecting some expansion of video review in the coming offseason, but maybe not the wide-ranging reform Bud Selig revealed yesterday. As a proponent of expanded review, I ought to be thrilled, but I’m holding it down to “cautiously gratified” at the moment. There are usually a few hiccups in every new system, and I think I can spot some of them already.

As announced, managers will have one review for the first six innings, not transferable to later stages of the game. In short, use it or lose it. We can anticipate a sixth-inning slowdown as managers burn off their expiring reviews on “what-the-heck” challenges, just in case one hits. The same thing happens with the two challenges that activate in the seventh. There’s little reason not to take your shots with them in the ninth as well, thus bogging down the end of the game, making a nail-biter tedious or a rout interminable.

Baseball’s challenge system is clearly based on football’s, but it lacks one important factor. Failed challenges in football have a further cost: the loss of a time-out, which can be critical late in a half. There’s no analogous penalty in baseball, since time-outs are effectively unlimited. MLB thankfully didn’t distort the game by adding something like a called strike or ball as a parallel penalty, but it’s still missed a conceptual problem.

The managers themselves could sort this out in time. A new “unwritten rule,” such as the one saying you don’t steal with a big lead, could evolve: an etiquette that says you don’t make implausible—or as the managers would likely call them, horse-[censored]—challenges. Of course, horse-stuff is in the eye of the beholder, one who might be desperate for a win. And while they’re thrashing this out, the games are still being gummed up.

One also wonders how managers will decide which calls to challenge. They won’t have monitors in the dugout, but teams will surely have somebody watching the replays for a overturnable call. Will we see baseball coaches wearing headsets like on football sidelines, waiting for a call from the booth to challenge that last play, quick, before the pitcher gets set to throw?

Baseball should have taken a page from computer game companies. They hire play testers who, as part of their jobs, try to “break” the game, playing it with an eye to finding and exposing flaws in the program that could ruin game play. If Bud Selig had brought in a couple of bright outsiders and asked them to “break” the new review system, we might not have to learn what problems it has by watching managers think up these game-breaks on their own.

Expanded review should be an improvement, but it’s going to need some improvements of its own.

Jack Weiland: Just what baseball needs: something to slow down games! Finally someone rectified this long-standing issue.

Karl de VriesI’m with y’all on the faulty implementation, and with Jack on the drawbacks of slowing down an already, er, slow game. But as Bob Klapisch once wrote, we don’t pay ticket prices to watch the officiating—we’re here to see them get the calls right and watch the ballplayers do their thing. I’m not against a process that will attempt to address what’s been a glaring issue in baseball for decades, so long as the execution is smoothed out over time.

David Wade: I guess I’ll forever be branded a contrarian. But, I hate replay. I hate every single thing about it. I despise it in pro football, as I’ve seen it bring a new brand of announcer to playoff games: the “Former-Head-of-Officials-Instant-Replay-Guru.” And I’ve seen them watch a play under replay and predict, with certainty, that it would be overturned or upheld—and be wrong.

It didn’t help the Seattle-Green Bay game last year.

It reduces the game to frame by frame arguing over minutiae. I don’t know that it cheapens the experience, and I suppose it must not for most people, as I don’t find many who agree with me.

But for me, it is so unnecessary. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a rational reason for it.

Everyone says “Look at tennis.” Well, I have. Roger Federer is awesome to watch and it has nothing at all to do with the cameras and computers that predict where the ball landed at a 99.4 percent success rate. Nothing.

Do the delays in the game suck? Yes. But I know people don’t care about that. Could replay mean umpires will have to make judgments on the placement of baserunners if a play is overturned? Yes, but they already have to do that sometimes anyway, so people probably won’t care about that.

I guess all I can say is that something about it doesn’t feel right. I don’t have a rational reason for hating reality television, but I do, even though many love it.

My reality television is sports. And I guess I think reality should be dealing, sometimes, with an imperfect situation. Mistakes will be made, and I’m fine with it. Hardly anyone will agree, and I’m fine with that, too.

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Comments

  1. bucdaddy said...

    “As announced, managers will have one review for the first six innings, not transferable to later stages of the game. In short, use it or lose it. We can anticipate a sixth-inning slowdown as managers burn off their expiring reviews on “what-the-heck” challenges, just in case one hits. The same thing happens with the two challenges that activate in the seventh. There’s little reason not to take your shots with them in the ninth as well, thus bogging down the end of the game, making a nail-biter tedious or a rout interminable.”

    This. In my view, the ends of football and basketball games have become unwatchable largely because, “Dammit, I don’t care how far behind we are, I’m going to burn all my timeouts. I don’t need those idiots in the blogs and the press complaining I wasn’t trying to win because I left timeouts on the table.” Now, replace “timeouts” with “challenges.”

    “Baseball should have taken a page from computer game companies. They hire play testers who, as part of their jobs, try to “break” the game, playing it with an eye to finding and exposing flaws in the program that could ruin game play. If Bud Selig had brought in a couple of bright outsiders and asked them to “break” the new review system, we might not have to learn what problems it has by watching managers think up these game-breaks on their own.”

    This too. I wrote this on another blog, I’ll repeat it here:

    I’d feel better about all of this if they would test various replay strategies in winter leagues and spring training, and had a month to sort through what works well and what doesn’t, and THEN decided how the system will work, rather than slapping it down in August as a done deal. Nobody really knows, I don’t think, what the problems are going to be. There will inevitably be situations that even these three geniuses (no sarcasm) haven’t thought of that will gum up the works. A test period, I guess is what I’m asking for. And if it isn’t working at ALL, the stones to say, when the regular season starts, “You know what? We haven’t thought this through as thoroughly as we thought we had. There are still some issues to work out. We’re going back to the drawing board and come up with something better for 2015.”

    (NOTE: This is all in lieu of doing the sensible thing and simply having a fifth umpire in the booth or at a central site.)
    —-
    Well said, Shane.

  2. Jim said...

    In addition, you can have an infinite number of challenges, as long as you are correct.  Last week, a homerun review took 11 minutes, 7 seconds.  With a minimum of 6 challenges per game, this adds another 66 minutes.  I have heard that the challenge will be decided in a minute and a quarter.  Some of these umpires are so out of shape, they can’t get in from second base in that time.

    I also hope ol’ “pillow theory of management” Selig has apologized to all those he hired to figure out how to speed up the game.  They all just got kicked in the teeth by Bud.

  3. Dave said...

    Runners on the corners, 1 out.  Batter hits a liner to right field, RF makes a diving attempt but traps it.  Runner on 3rd scores, runner on first was running with the pitch, so he makes it to 3rd base.

    Play is challenged, replay official determines it was actually a catch.  What happens?  Do you assume the runner on 3rd base gets to tag up and score?  Do you assume the runner on first gets doubled up?  Which happens first?

    This, I think, will be the real bane of any replay system in baseball.  The umps have to figure out what would have happened had they made the correct call, and it is often not obvious.

  4. jj said...

    People who argue that the managers shouldn’t be the ones to ask for the call to be reviewed are not thinking about how baseball is already umped. I’m not saying it is umped 100% correctly, but isn’t this is really just like the appeals process isn’t it?  if a runner misses a base the ump never says anything about it unless the defensive team appeals at that base.  I always found this a bit strange, but have you ever seen an umpire point out this – I’m really not sure why they don’t.  Or how many times have you seen the home plate ump offer to overturn a call at first that he should obviously seen as incorrect – only if the manager asks them will they actually talk about the play and it probably goes something like: ‘did you see the play?’ ‘yeah, that’s why I called him out.’ ‘ok, I guess we have to go with what you called then.’

    And really how many plays per game do we really think should be questioned. 1 or 2?  many game none.  I don’t think this will be a big deal as far as added time.

  5. gdc said...

    Haven’t seen the NHL replay in action but I imagine they move the clock back to the incident and probably nothing has happened in between (even a few turnovers or a blocked shot but usually no one has scored).  But in baseball, if no one on the field stops play, either an ump or one of the teams, there has to be instant communication that won’t get missed (home plate ump didn’t hear the signal or his communication device is out).  Then when they review the play and say the runner was safe instead of the third out, they may have gone off the field and the batting team inserted a new pitcher (old pitcher headed for shower after sitting in dugout in case he came to bat).  Or even worse, the inning continued and the next batter hit a two-run shot and then get told the previous batter was the third out, sorry.

  6. Frank said...

    At this point, I just assume that anything that comes out of the Commissioner’s Office will, ultimately, end up being bad for the game.

  7. BaconBall said...

    If there had been replay back in the day, Yogi would not still be claiming Jackie Robinson was out at the play at the plate in the World Series.

    I saw Steve Avery hit a home run over the CF fence in SF, I believe it was, and so did thousands of fans at the game, and many more thousands watching on the tube. Everyone except the umpires, sho ruled it a ground rule double. It is most probably still on tape somewhere. Baseball-Reference needs to make a note!

  8. Gyre said...

    This is a big smokescreen, Budman has had this around for awhile, and has suddenly released it now due to the Arod fiasco.  Arod has been wiped from the conversation, just as in the past Budman has changed the game during times of duress.  Look over the history prior to 3 divisions and interleague, and recently, interleague nearly every gameday.  Budman didn’t introduce those changes due to fan demand…

    Budman is successful at these diversions, so I will add to the noise.  Think back to June 2010 in Detroit, the video technology and replay ability was the same as it will be in 2014.  A small correction to that game can occur, the net outcome will not change.  This “new” replay concept should be used to give Galarraga his perfect game.

  9. David said...

    I understand the worry that replay would make the game longer, but if MLB wasn’t the worst managed league in sports baseball might enjoy well thought out, progressive changes that make the game better instead of the clearly lazy and thoughtless effort. I think the proposed replay system is incredibly terrible and could be improved upon in so many ways it’s a marvel to think that the league office thought about it at all, but it’s wrong to condemn replay based on what is probably its worst implementation in professional sport. It’s so terrible I wouldn’t be surprised if the intent is to turn fan opinion against replay so they can retract all the changes later and continue to do what they do best: ignore all appeals for change and do nothing.

  10. jEFF said...

    I am a little surprised no one has voiced the overall rejection of replay.  Joe Domino says “This is the future in all sports”.  Why?  Players and pitchers know that umps have different strike zones.  I would think that would be addressed too.  We see far more many bad ball/strike calls per game than close plays at a base.

    This is going to slow the game down as Jim said.  And Dave’s scenario is a perfect example why replay doesn’t belong in baseball.  I like jj’s question about the appeal process – that’s a baseball progression that would make sense in the 21st century!

    The one of the main fun aspects about baseball is the human factor.  Player quirks and skills, manger decisions, and seemingly bad calls by the umpires (like the strike zone).  It’s a variance we can’t control.  It’s like life.  The last thing baseball needs it replay.

  11. BenMarkham said...

    The real answer is an all-tech solution. Sensors in the ball, on the bases, down the foul ball line, and around the outfield wall. It could automatically tell you if a ball was fair or fall, if a ball passed the outfield wall before hitting something else, if a ball hit the ground before going into a players glove. If a player had the ball in the glove and was standing on a base at the same time and if that was before the the runner got to the base.

    It would take some effort to implement but from what I understand we have the technology to do it. I’m not sure how you would implement knowing if a player was tagged out though. Maybe something with Kinect like technology which can discern people and objects and see which touches which first.

    But really, the call most often blown during a game is balls and strikes. Watching a game on MLB.tv with pitch f/x up is ridiculous sometimes. And we have the tech to fix that implemented already. The home plate umpire should just have a mobile device that feeds him that info and he just calls it what pitch f/x called it.

  12. Gyre said...

    jEFF:  Oh, I think it is a bad idea too, a perfectly called game will leave less to talk about, less to make beer bets on.  I too enjoy the human factor, in football I can sleep thru the first half, watch most of the 3rd quarter and predict the ending the majority of the time.

    But I always see something new in baseball, and sometimes, it’s a blown call.

    But if there is noise to be made, I’ll add some fuel to the fire, maybe it will burn itself out.

  13. Bob said...

    Thank you, David Wade- could not agree more. The biggest reason I believe we follow sports is to escape real life for awhile. Too much “having to have it right” every time just sucks the enjoyment out of the sport, and at least I find, makes watching a game feel like a project, not a pastime.

    And, as has said many times, this ain’t rocket science.

  14. Philip said...

    A comparison to the NHL would mean only plays at the plate would be reviewable.

    Considering the technology available today, I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be either (a) a 5th ump in the press box with a headset to communicate with the field crew chief or (b) a ‘‘war room’’ like the NHL has in Toronto, where officials monitor every play.

    If (a) were used, I don’t even see much of a slow down in play. An questionable close call that could effect the outcome of a tight game often has either players, coaches or managers arguing about the call.

    Any play at a base or trapped ball questions could quickly be reviewed by a 5th ump upstairs and relayed to the on-field umpires before the next batter is even settled in the batter’s box.

    The use of manager ‘challenges’ is idiotic and will surely result in signals being sent to the dugout to tip off a manager as to when to challenge a call.

    If instant replay is going to be used, it should be MLB’s responsibility to get calls right.

    It will only be a matter of time before a manager, having burned his challenges on a couple of close plays in the 7th and 8th innings, will be tossed after arguing a potential game-ending call that an umpire clearly blew but which cannot be reviewed.

  15. Philip said...

    Dave said…

    ‘‘Runners on the corners, 1 out.  Batter hits a liner to right field, RF makes a diving attempt but traps it.  Runner on 3rd scores, runner on first was running with the pitch, so he makes it to 3rd base.

    ‘‘Play is challenged, replay official determines it was actually a catch.  What happens?  Do you assume the runner on 3rd base gets to tag up and score?  Do you assume the runner on first gets doubled up?  Which happens first?

    ‘‘This, I think, will be the real bane of any replay system in baseball.  The umps have to figure out what would have happened had they made the correct call, and it is often not obvious.’‘

    The end result would be no different than in a game without replay. If such an event happened without replay, once the pitcher has the ball back and the next batter steps to the plate, the pitcher would step off the rubber and throw to first base and the first base umpire would single an out. The double play ends the inning and the runner from third does not score.

    In fact, the outfielder would know pretty sure whether he caught the ball and probably threw to first immediately in an attempt to get a double play. He wouldn’t be waiting for a trap/catch signal from the umpire. If because of the score he threw home and assuming the runner was safe, nothing really changes. The runner from first is now standing on third. He has no chance of getting back to first base safely. So he’s tagged out (or the first baseman tags first with ball in hand) whether immediately after the throw home.

  16. Marc Schneider said...

    I would be ok with no replay but the proliferation of technology makes this not a viable position for any sports league. It’s too easy to see replays on TV from every angle and see how the play was missed. It’s easy to blame Selig for this-as for everything-but fans and media get outraged whenever a replay reveals a call being missed, no matter how close. Most people want to get it right regardless of the cost; the idea that we could actually live without some mistakes is anathema to this technological generation. 

    If MLB had not come out with some kind of replay, it would have been derided for being behind the times, unlike the progresive NFL.

  17. Jim said...

    And that pretty well sums up the problem with mingling with today’s fans.  Going to a Major League game anymore is definitely not fun with today’s fans.

    But then, they do outnumber me and outspend me at the game and other places where people spend money to watch television, so I am definitely a minority and a non-voice in this matter.  Too bad all good things come to an end.

  18. Marc Schneider said...

    You could look at bad calls as in the nature of bad hops or bloop hits, ie, a random part of the game.  But anyone that says something like that gets immediately attacked as a reactionary Luddite.  Moreover, the idea that this is just a game and entertainment seems completely out of fashion. I’m a Braves fan and there are still people complaining about (and expressing hatred for the late Eric Gregg) because of how he called balls and strikes in a playoff game against the Marlins IN 1997.

    But part of the problem is that umpiring, in some cases, is egregiously bad.  I don’t have a problem with an ump missing a close play on the bases or at home where you need multiple replays to see if it was right or even problems with balls and strikes.  But some of the calls in recent years have been so bad and really not that difficult that it’s hard to defend the “human” element, especially when the umpire is out of position. It’s like a player making errors; mistakes happen, but at some point you have to do something about it. And, given that they are not likely to get better umpires, replay is the something.

  19. Jim said...

    Okay, I’ve had it all wrong.  After watching the Blue Jays/Yankees game this afternoon (8/22), I see that Selig is treating the symptoms.  The real problem is incompetent umpires.  It’s like the doctor who tell a woman, “your husband has cancer, but we put a band aid on the area”.

    C’mon MLB go after the condition, not the symptoms!

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