SAN FRANCISCO -- Two weeks into the season, it’s time for Major League Baseball to take a second look at instant replay.
We’ve learned a few things about the process. Like what Bruce Bochy’s lowest gear looks like when he’s moseying onto the field while awaiting a signal whether to challenge. We’ve also learned that the umpires, despite being everyone’s favorite target, are actually darn good at what they do.
But it hasn’t taken much real-world implementation to realize that some tweaks need to be made, and from what I understand, changes could be coming soon – and put into place right away.
There is much agreement at the highest levels, for instance, that all plays at the plate should be reviewable at any point in a game. Tony La Russa is a proponent of this change, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen soon.
It shouldn’t stop there, though. Here are other changes that should be made:
Adjust the definition of “conclusive video evidence”
MLB already admitted it screwed up one call this season on Saturday, when the Yankees’ Deal Anna took his foot off the bag while the tag was still being applied. The play was challenged but the incorrect call on the field stood because “the conclusive (video) angle was not immediately available,” according to a league official.
That’s bad enough. But even when they do have the video available, they aren’t always getting it right. In the first inning Thursday at AT&T Park, Arizona’s Tony Campana was thrown out trying to steal second base and manager Kirk Gibson challenged the call. Two angles were inconclusive but a third one left no doubt. Yet the call on the field stood.
So … what’s the point? If MLB is going to slow down and stop games to make sure they get the calls right, shouldn’t they, you know, actually get the calls right?
Boot the replay officials
This one isn’t going to happen, but it should. The league did not hire specially trained and tech savvy replay officials to staff the command center in New York. They hired additional umpiring crews and will rotate them through the replay center.
Anyone see a conflict of interest there? Umpires don’t want to make other umpires look bad if they can help it. As objective as a replay official might strive to be, there’s an appearance of bias when they are scrutinizing the calls of their brethren and union mates. Plus I’m not sure I’d trust any of the old guard to program a VCR.
The replay officials should be a separate body altogether. But since this isn’t happening, at minimum, the league and teams should post the name of the replay official along with the umpiring crew on every press release, lineup sheet and include it in every box score. Accountability should be across the board, and that’s obvious.
Make the challenge disappear after six innings
If you’re interested in 100 percent accuracy of calls, then the challenge system is dopey. It’s ridiculous, for instance, that the Giants couldn’t challenge an obvious blown call at the plate on April 1 at Arizona because they had a challenge denied earlier in the sixth inning. A run counts the same in the first as it does in the ninth, right?
But we understand why the challenge system exists. The game threatens to get totally bogged down if you have replay reviews on every bang-bang call from the first pitch to the last. At least the challenge system should address the grievous mistakes early in games.
This is the odd part, though. Umpires can institute their own reviews beginning in the seventh inning. But here’s the way it’s being practiced: if a team still has its challenge, the umpires are insisting that the challenge be used up before the crew would act on its own authority. That’s overly bureaucratic. If umpires believe a play after the sixth inning merits review, then it merits review. So let’s just drop the pretense and have the challenges go away if not used after six innings.
While we’re at it, there shouldn’t be a limit on successful challenges. If you get a call overturned, why should you have the right to challenge just one more time? It should refresh automatically any time a manager turns out to be right.
Simplify the list of reviewable plays
It’s hard enough to remember which plays are reviewable and which are not. But you need to remember more than that. There’s a separate list of plays that umpires may review at any point in the game, but are not subject to a manager’s challenge:
Disputed home runs, the catcher collision rule, and record keeping (the count, the number of outs, etc.)
There’s only one reason I can figure for disputed home runs to be in a different category and that’s because it was the one type of play already subject to replay, and the league just grandfathered that through under the old procedure. Whatever.
Let’s just make this simple: Any play when a run scores should be reviewable by umpires at any point in the game, whether a team has used its challenge or not.
Replay won’t be perfect at any point this season. But scoring runs is a pretty essential part of the game, isn’t it? Baseball might as well ensure they get that part right.