How New MLB Replay Expansion Could Backfire in Big Moments
Bob Dylan said it best: "The Times, They Are a-Changin'."
The evolution of America's pastime continues with MLB's recent announcement that an agreement has been reached on instituting expanded instant replay beginning in 2014, with only a vote at the owner's meetings needed to make it official.
Personally, I'm not a fan of the idea. Call me a dinosaur if you must, but part of baseball's appeal—for me, at least—has been the human element of the game.
Whether the call was for or against our favorite team, it was part of the game—and we accepted it.
Expanded replay removes some of that element from the game.
While this is only the "first draft" of these rules, if you will, and tweaks will be made after next season as needed, they are far from perfect.
Let's take a look at a few scenarios that, if-and-when they occur, will have managers, players and fans screaming to return the game to the way it was.
Extra Inning Debacles
Here's how this new challenge system is designed to work: A manager will have one challenge to use in the first six innings and two to use from the seventh inning until the game comes to an end. Challenges not used during the first six innings do not carry over into the seventh; they are simply lost.
Now let's say, for example, that these rules were in place in 2011, and Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle had used all three of his challenges before the 18th inning of his team's game against the Atlanta Braves due to some pretty horrendous officiating.
As you can see in the video above, home plate umpire Jerry Meals clearly botches the call, ruling Atlanta's Julio Lugo safe despite Pirates catcher Michael McKendry clearly tagging him on the leg before he comes anywhere near home plate.
With the way the rules are set up, Hurdle would have no way to argue his case—enough to infuriate even the most even-tempered manager.
Not only is MLB aware of this potential situation—it doesn't seem to care, as John Schuerholz, president of the Braves, explained to MLB.com's Paul Hagen:
We talked about that, and it may develop into that down the road. But we said, 'No.' Late-game situations, a manager is out of challenges, there's a call that appears to be obviously incorrect -- what happens then? I think managers will learn to judiciously use their challenges. The stats we have -- only one missed call per five games is our data right now. So if you have three challenges, you should be able to cover those events you believe are critical to the outcome of your game.
Rather than allowing a manger to vent his frustration on the field, MLB is opening the door for heated post-game confrontations between irate skippers and officials, confrontations that would occur out of the public's eye and away from the cameras—putting all parties involved at risk.
The 'Neighborhood' Play
Unwritten rules like the "neighborhood play," when a second baseman or shortstop doesn't actually touch second base while trying to turn a double play, but gets his feet "in the neighborhood" of the bag and, thus, the out call from the umpire, exist.
Former major league umpire Richie Garcia denied the play's existence in 2009, telling David Waldstein of The New York Times: “There is no such thing as the neighborhood play. You either touch the base or you don’t.”
As you can see from this blown call against the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, that simply isn't the case, despite Garcia's claims to the contrary.
So let's say that instead of charging the field and getting himself tossed, which is what happened after the video ends, Cubs manager Mike Quade challenges the play...and loses.
Five innings later, the same thing happens: a ground ball is hit to White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who flips to second baseman Gordon Beckham, who fails to touch second base and fires to first, credited with turning another double play.
Quade is sure to use his second challenge of the game...but will the call be overturned because it's a separate call from the one in the second inning? Or will the umpire overseeing the replay decide that since he already allowed it once, he has to allow it again?
This really brings up the biggest issue with expanded instant replay in baseball: You've still got a major league umpire reviewing the play and, as we know, umpires don't like to make each other look bad. It's hard to imagine the umpire in New York overruling the umpires in Chicago after siding with them earlier.
Awful Officiating Early
While I can understand the reasoning behind limiting a manager to only one challenge in the first six innings of a game, it's not enough.
Umpires don't only blow multiple calls late in games—they blow them early as well.
Let's assume, for a moment, that when the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels met on September 22, 2012, that the umpires made a questionable call against the White Sox in the second inning, a call that manager Robin Ventura challenged—and lost.
Two innings later, the umpires make the balk call you see in the video against White Sox starter Jose Quintana, but Ventura is without a challenge to contest the call—and by rule, he cannot come out and argue a reviewable play.
Yes, the rules are designed to add another element of strategy to the game for managers, but bad calls are bad calls—and a skipper should be able to argue on behalf of his team whenever those calls come along, including when two calls go against them before the seventh inning.
Batters 'Selling' That They Were Hit by a Pitch with the Bases Loaded
There's no question that professional baseball players are terrific athletes, but there are a few select players who have Academy Award-caliber acting skills on top of their athletic prowess.
Especially when it comes to "selling" an umpire on the fact that he's been hit by a pitch.
In the example above, there is no question that Chicago's Darwin Barney gets plunked by Miami's Steve Cishek in this game between the Cubs and Marlins on July 14, 2011. You can see—and hear—the ball smack into Barney's back.
Let's say that instead of plunking Barney in the back, Cishek works him inside, with the ball coming close enough to Barney that he drops to the ground and grabs his ribs, feigning that he was hit by the pitch.
Let's also say that there were two outs instead of one and that the runners were moving on the pitch.
That play would not be reviewable, according to MLB.com's Paul Hagen, who got the lowdown from Atlanta president John Schuerholz, who was part of the committee that drew up the new replay rules:
Schuerholz used a disputed hit-by-pitch call as a play that would not be reviewable, noting that if runners were moving on the pitch, it would be extremely difficult for the umpires to decide which bases they should be entitled to.
"Most of those plays, when you see them, are plays that if they are turned over, the reset of the runners and the play would be mind-boggling," Schuerholz said. "It would be a nightmare. So that's the way we've chosen to start."
In this case, a manager would be allowed to charge out of the dugout and argue his case—but he would not be able to challenge the play, one where instant replay would clearly show whether the ball struck Barney in the ribs or not.
Seems to me that MLB is opening up a Pandora's Box by ruling such a play non-reviewable, and that, really, it's inviting players to create baseball's version of the "flopping" that we see go on in the NBA on a nightly basis.