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MLB instant replay system I could stand

  • David Whitlock

I hesitate to endorse instant replay in baseball, as I, for one, am in favor of the human umpiring element.  Even if it changes the course of human history (i.e. Denkinger in 1985).  I respect the technology, but, in baseball, you never know whether a fair/foul, safe/out, or even ball/strike could change a game.  And those calls happen 200 times per game (in the case of ball/strike) so how do you decide which ones to review?  For example, I wouldn’t want the usual 3-0 “charity strike” (i.e., the one that’s a few inches low but the ump calls good) challenged and reviewed on a batter leading off the inning.  But that runner might be the start of a rally.

So here are a few things that could be done that wouldn’t completely turn watching a baseball game into an exercise in camera angles:

1) Replays can only come from a manager’s challenge.  If it’s important enough the coach wants to take a look, grant it to him.  But he only gets one per game, so use it wisely.  And if he’s wrong, he’s ejected.  I guarantee you won’t get too many fluff challenges, they’ll make it count.  A corollary is that any technology for the manager to look at the play before the challenge cannot be used.  Two ways to approach this, no monitors in the clubhouse, or the challenge must be “immediate”, the manager must enter the field of play in the moments afterward.  He better have seen it clearly, or trust his player.

2) Replay reviews are done in the MLB office, not by the umps on the field.  The umps stay on the field (or to a phone booth near the camera well), get on the phone, call the league office, and wait.  This works in the NHL.  Then you don’t need the umps to disappear in the tunnel forever, nor do you need a replay official at each stadium.  And nobody will be biased to keep their own call as good.  Quick and efficient.

3) Some judgment calls are not reviewable.  The NFL, NBA, and NHL don’t review penalties like pass interference or hooking, in the flow of the action, the referee must see it and call.  It’s a flow of the game feel for the ump and something that is difficult to clearly overturn.  My list would include:
a) Balks
b) In/out of baseline
c) Double play turns (this is either the drop on the ball transfer or the player leaving the bag early)
d) Interference with or by the base runner
e) Balls and strikes
f) Infield Fly Rule

And you have to be careful with tag plays, I’d need to see a clear missed tag or clear tag before the foot/hand reached bag (on an out or safe missed call, respectively).

A note on balls and strikes, in fairness, the umpire usually sets a strike zone that is consistent within the game but not necessarily according to pitch tracker.  It wouldn’t be fair to review one key ball or strike that might have been called differently when not reviewed.  Kind of an “equal protection under the law” clause.

One thing replay proponents may not have thought through, how do you handle an overturned call with respect to baserunners?  For instance, two on base, fly ball to RF, ball is ruled caught so runners retreat.  A challenge shows a trap, do you give the runners one base or two?  Maybe it’s clear the RF could have gotten the runner on a force at 2B?  Umpire judgment or should a rule be put in the books?  Same with a ruled foul ball shown on replay to be fair, once ruled foul initially the runners stop, but if shown fair, do you give one base or two?  Etc.  This is the stickiest point to me, you can then argue on an overturned call that runners weren’t given enough bases.

The main thing to expanding replay is to minimize regular interruption of play (again, you never know which one might lead to a big inning, but it’s gotta be limited).  The above approach does this.  Although for my money, just letting the umps make their calls and moving on still works.

-Dave (@lhd_on_sports)

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About The Author

David Whitlock

David Whitlock - manager

David (a.k.a. Longhorndave or lhd_on_sports) joined the staff late in the 2012 season and moved to Site Manager in early 2013. A lifelong Houston Astros fan (and mini-season ticket holder for 9 years) he attends 20+ games per year. A statistics freak, David still keeps score the "old fashioned way" on occasion (and has kept manual score of World Series games since 1986 and retains the sheets). He was a featured guest weekly on the Phil Naessens Show. He is also a Texas Longhorns alumnus and huge football and baseball fan of his alma mater. When he isn't watching or writing about baseball, he works as a contractor at NASA Johnson Space Center. He lives by the mantra "a bad day at the ballpark is better than a good day anywhere else."

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