MLB Must Turn to NHL-Style Instant Replay System to Fix Umpiring

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MLB Must Turn to NHL-Style Instant Replay System to Fix Umpiring

After yet another umpiring blunder—this one preventing a game-tying home run in the ninth inning for the Oakland Athletics off the bat of Adam Rosales against Cleveland on Wednesday night—it is time for Major League Baseball to do something. 

One simple solution would be to adopt the NHL style of replay. The NHL has an official who watches a monitor of the live match and communicates with the officials via telephone on goals that require another look. 

It is a quick process that takes maybe one minute to make the call, communicate with the official and for a decision to be rendered. By comparison, it took the umpires in Cleveland on Wednesday night three minutes to make a call—and the wrong one, at that.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig and his merry band of misfits have been resistant to the idea of change, fearing it may threaten the "integrity" of the umpires. Even though the technology exists, replay is limited to home run calls. 

Yet, as we saw on Wednesday night, not even the replay monitors that the umpires have are good enough to get the calls correct. 

Second base umpire Angel Hernandez, who made the initial call of a double and upheld it upon further review, said after the game (via ESPN.com) that his crew did not have 100 percent evidence based on what they saw. 

It wasn't evident on the TV we had it was a home run. I don't know what kind of replay you had, but you can't reverse a call unless there is 100 percent evidence, and there wasn't 100 percent evidence.

While this does make you wonder exactly what kind of television monitor they are looking at, this is the impetus that MLB needs to overhaul the way that replay is used in all 30 stadiums. 

There have been reports and rumors over the last year that the league was considering doing something different. 

ESPN's Jayson Stark said on the radio (via Business Insider) in May 2012 that the plans included using a group of umpires at a central location. On plays that were called wrong, the central hub would signal the umpires at the games that the calls needed to be changed. 

He also said that the system would initially be for home runs, fair and foul balls, and whether a player catches the ball. 

So, for instance, the botched infield-fly rule called during the wild-card game between St. Louis and Atlanta last year would not have been part of these changes. 

Of course, these changes don't appear to be a hot-button issue for MLB. At the time Stark made the announcement, he said the league was hoping to implement it in time for the 2013 season.

It's clear that time frame didn't work out. 

The idea of replay in baseball is a good one, but because the game is so unique, it is harder to implement it all the time. What happens when a ball is hit down the line, initially called fair but then overturned by replay? Is the batter then credited with a hit, or is it an error? What happens on trap plays with runners on base?

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Can you hear me now?

There are a lot of logistical problems that would have to be worked out. However, the fact that the NHL has an easy system to look at replays to determine whether the call is correct and get it to the referee in a timely manner should be the model baseball follows. 

We are in very dangerous territory with the umpires right now. They are becoming more and more a part of the story, be it because of a misinterpretation of the infield fly rule, bad calls at the plate, being comically over the top when ejecting players and managers, or botching a home run call even after looking at the replay. 

What if this was the final game of the World Series and the umpires had made this call?

MLB has to realize that there is going to come a time when these umpires botch a call in a national game that is going to play a pivotal role in the outcome. Rather than have that be the final word, why not take the few simple steps necessary to get the call right?

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This sport, despite what some might have you believe because it doesn't draw NFL-style ratings on television, is in a great place financially. Two separate agreements were reached last year to keep MLB games on ESPN, Fox and Turner networks for $12.4 billion. 

Is it really going to cost that much money to, say, set up a base of operations for a group of umpires at the league offices in New York to watch games and get in contact with umpires if and when a situation arises?

And even though we laugh at the NHL for having the worst labor relations of the major North American sports, it is still far more advanced when it comes to replay and making sure the integrity of the games aren't compromised by poor officiating. 

Hopefully, the botched call in Cleveland, not to mention the many others that have happened just in the last few years, will spring the commissioner's office into action this time around. We know the technology is out there. 

 

For more talk of why replay is needed in MLB, or anything else baseball related, hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments. 


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