With the flicker of dazzling high-definition displays before them, video officials will field calls from around MLB like Manny Machado taking grounders at third. From there, the hope is that everything goes just as smoothly.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan joined a group of media members given access to the technological wonder that will be the key cog in the new instant replay system MLB will roll out this season.
Passan was nice enough to supply some images of the 900-square-foot office, inspiring our first reaction to the budding system: It's beautiful.
Of course, we could savor pictures like this all day. In fact, we could watch MLB games from multiple angles all day, but we weren't asked.
As Passan reports, those making the calls behind the scenes in the replay booth are the same that we have come to know throughout the years on the field. MLB will rotate umpires in and out of the office, so official umpires will be the ones taking a second look at plays if that's what is requested.
The New York Times' Richard Sandomir was among reporters taking in the sights and sounds of rare change in the sport, and Sandomir gave a glimpse of how things might work, using a call from an Arizona Fall League game as an example:
“I have a challenge from the Scottsdale Scorpions that the runner at first base was safe,” said Chris Marinak, senior vice president for league economics and strategy.
Justin Klemm, the director of replay, was at a workstation, playing the umpire/video official. Marinak played the Arizona umpire. Klemm examined the play from cameras stationed on the first- and third-base lines. He studied each angle a few times. “Do you have another angle?” he asked the technician sitting to his left. “High-home?”
Eventually he was satisfied that he could not be sure if the first baseman slapped a tag on the runner’s knee as he stumbled away from the bag.
So he told Marinak, who was standing about 15 feet behind him: “That call will stand. We don’t have conclusive evidence.”
Much like the 30 MLB teams getting their bearings ahead of the season, those making up the Advanced Media office at the Chelsea Market are in spring training as well. The above may have been an exhibition of sorts, but it's how manic and, hopefully, fluid things will go for the 2014 season.
MLB.com Paul Hagen relays that of umpires' calls last season, MLB says "there were only 377 out of some 50,000 that merited review. Only 27 times did it happen twice in a game. On just three occasions, it happened three times, never against the same team."
The league has given managers more than enough to stave off egregious errors, or so the numbers say. MLB skippers will have one replay request. If a request is made and the call is overturned, the manager is gifted another.
As Passan reports, things aren't exactly that simple. To keep things brisk, MLB has imposed some guidelines to making a challenge, which will then lead to a second look at Advanced Media headquarters that "will take between 60 and 90 seconds."
Those guidelines make it seem like we will have extremely swift exchanges between managers and umpires on the field. For example: "If it's a play within a still-live inning, the manager must request a replay from the umpire who made the call in question before the pitcher steps on the rubber and the batter gets into the box."
Most importantly, it's up to the umpire to end a heated exchange with the simple query as to whether that man barking in front of him is actually going to challenge the play.
As Sandomir reports, the list of reviewable plays isn't exhaustive. While force plays and tags are in, "balks, foul tips, balls and strikes, and the so-called neighborhood play at second base during a double-play attempt are on an even lengthier list of plays that cannot be challenged."
Then again, this isn't about causing a revolution but sating the masses hungry for replay to hit the sport. MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre addressed that by discussing a play during a Yankees playoff game two years ago, via Hagen:
I sort of like the game the way it was. But there was a play at second base. And it was missed. There was a lot of conversation and stuff written about that play as opposed to the game itself. The one thing I didn't want to have happen was to have something like that take center stage over the game itself. That's when I realized that we certainly can't ignore the technology.
And so the game changes at the snail's pace it is accustomed to. Like a slugger fixing his gloves and checking his bat, it was always going to get into the box eventually.
What we gleaned from spring training trial runs is that instant replay can work in baseball, and quite well. Watching a Dodgers and Angels game earlier in the spring proved just that:
Some might fault MLB for not fully embracing replay across all measures, but that's just how this sport ages: slowly.
Not reviewing all plays still allows for the wiggle room so many players have come to expect; phantom tags at "neighborhood plays" come to mind.
If the 2014 season goes as well as its spring, then we may just see a more inclusive and wide-ranging version in the years to come.
Just know that MLB is trying to get the calls right and continue the feel of the game we have all come to enjoy, which has led to quite possibly the most beautiful room ever created in the eyes of baseball fans.
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