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.