The Bud Selig 2014 victory lap/retirement tour continued Thursday, with the announcement MLB has (finally) officially approved instant replay and managerial challenges for the upcoming season. Of course, this being Major League Baseball, the process looks like it could be awfully confusing when put into practice . . . at least for the first few months.
MLB’s PR account tweeted this handy referral guide, which helps clear up some of the confusion. Note the “neighborhood play” at second cannot be challenged:
As for the nature of the challenges themselves? Managers won’t be allowed more than two per game but (and it’s a biggie) umpires have the option to review plays beginning the seventh inning. From the MLB press release:
Managers will have at least one challenge to use. If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, then the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game. Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call. Home run and other boundary calls will remain reviewable under the procedures in place last season.
A designated communication location near home plate will be established at all 30 MLB ballparks. There, the Crew Chief and at least one other Major League Umpire will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center, which will remain at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. Major League Umpires will be staffed as Replay Officials at the Replay Command Center. After viewing video feeds, the Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call, based on the continuing standard of whether there is clear and convincing evidence.
It all sounds confusing, but with anything given time sports fans should be able to adjust.
The good news here: With the challenge system and the umpires’ late-inning override ability, we should avoid further repeats of the Don Denkinger play or the Jeffrey Maier play. Under this system, Armando Galarraga would be a member of the Perfect Game Club. A more recent example is Angel Hernandez screwing up a home run call — after consulting replay. That’s an extreme circumstance, but even with replay baseball looks like it might find some way to keep the dreaded human element in the game, so long as the current crop of umpires exists.
As bad a rap as the umps get, we did see them confer during the World Series on Pete Kozma’s drop at second base and overrule the initial call and get it right.
Something still does feel wrong about baseball’s using replay, regardless of what it does to the speed of the game. I’m trying to look at this with as open a mind as possible. As we’ve seen while watching baseball, producing a clear-cut replay for something like a bang-bang play at first base is quick and definitive. It’s hard to envision replay falling into the same morass as the NFL, where challenges continually take over five minutes — stretched around commercial breaks — simply due to stuff like the fact that nobody seems to know what counts as a catch anymore. Even a “trap play” in baseball is relatively clear cut in comparison to football.
Given that there will be an independent review judge at MLB HQ, this figures to unfold more like the replay system the NHL uses on goals, compared to the NFL’s ‘under the hood’ setup.
On paper this sounds complicated and it very well could end up a disaster in practice. There’s also the chance it goes off without a hitch and managers’ challenging calls becomes ingrained in our system by May. Until it’s seen in action, I’ll hold off judgment.