Tiger skipper Jim Leyland expressing himself in 2011. Photo Credit: AP
The winds of change are blowing across the American landscape.
Never more so than with our national pastime.
Just last Thursday; all 30 teams approved expanded instant replay for the upcoming season at Major League Baseball’s quarterly owners meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Prior to this historic change, replays were limited to boundary calls involving home-runs, when the umpire-in-chief, at his sole discretion, would gather with his crew to review a questionable call.
With this new and approved replay system, 90 percent of calls are now subject to review, including ground-rule doubles, fan interference, boundary calls, bang-bang plays at first base, force plays, tag plays, fair-foul and trap plays in the outfield, hit by pitch, touching the base, passing runners and any dispute involving ball-strike counts, outs, score or substitutions.
Based roughly on the NFL model, each manager will have one challenge a game. If his challenge is upheld, he keeps the challenge; otherwise he’ll lose the option of challenging a call for the rest of the game, even if a clearly botched call occurs. A manager will never have more than two challenges per game.
Beginning in the 7th inning, the crew chief has the ability to initiate a review.
Unlike previous seasons when umpires would review disputed home run calls themselves, under the system recently approved, all reviews will be conducted at the Replay Command Center at MLBAM headquarters in New York.
Another significant change approved by the league that will unquestionably be a big hit with fans is the provision that allows stadiums to show replays, including controversial or disputed plays, on their in-park video boards.
Clearly, expanded replay was long overdue; its execution was just a matter of time. Umpires, after all, aren’t as ubiquitous as we would like them to be; they are, at times, out of position to make the correct call, at times their eyes play tricks on them, other times, they fall prey to human error and simply blow the call.
The only question is if expanded replays means fans can expect to stay in the yard for up to 4 ½ and 5 hours, especially during the early days of this new system, when managers will be experimenting with their new privileges, egged on in many cases by fans, who after seeing a replay that went against the home team splashed on the scoreboard, will undoubtedly voice their displeasure with an earsplitting chorus of boos.
And with replays being reviewed not by the umpires at the game, but from MLB headquarters in New York, you wonder if this is setting the stage for a painful, time-consuming process that will stretch the game to an uncomfortable length.
With this in mind, I put these very questions to a number of seasoned baseball beat writers and sports columnists in order to get their take on this momentous change with our national pastime.
Here, then, are some responses:
``My guess is that a very high percentage of challenges will be upheld. (You'd think 50-50 or 60-40, my guess 90-10. But just a guess.) So, there will be very few time-wasting (rejected) challenges. As a result, fans will probably accept the slight added time because, in most cases, there will be a change of a "bad call" into a correct call. Also, you'll save the "argument time." Nobody will argue. (Too bad.) A lost challenge may be considered a fairly major screw up. Ironically, it's possible baseball will be the only sport where one challenge (before the late innings) will be enough.
There's little/no chance that it adds a lot of time in my opinion. Unless it turns out that umps are awful and miss a ton of calls which really need to be challenge/changed. I doubt that's the case. But we'll see. I'm really looking forward to it. You can (in theory) always go back to the "old system." At worst, maybe some damage/delay. At best, and I think it's a possibility, baseball turns out to be the best-suited game to replay. What's fun is that it's easy to anticipate the impact but hard to actually know it.’’
-Thomas Boswell, sports columnist, The Washington Post.
``I'm sure most people -- fans, writers, baseball people -- like the replay idea, but I say if pitchers, hitters and fielders can make mistakes, why not umpires? Players cost their teams far more games than umpires do. Everyone makes mistakes. If everyone were perfect, games would become boring.
The best thing to come out of this is eight more umpires get major league jobs and don't have to languish in the minors. It'll actually be more than eight because those eight will get in-season vacations just like the others.’’
-Murray Chass, former sportswriter for The New York Times; who continues to write on baseball at his personal website: http://www.murraychass.com . Mr. Chass recently devoted a column to the expanded replays in which he was decidedly critical of the new system. His column can be read at the following link: http://is.gd/GKWvfu
``I think the expanded replay generally will work well, although I do expect some hiccups at the start. I do not think delays will be a major issue. Many games won’t have any reviewable calls, and I think only rarely will there be more than one in the same game-although the ones with multiple reviews invariably will be the most high-profile games.’’ Given that, I think it will add significantly to time in only a small amount of games. The way the rules have been explained, I can envision arguments over whether plays at second base should be reviewable because of drops, or not reviewable because of the `neighborhood play’ exclusion.’’
-Ron Blum, AP sportswriter.
``Concerns are significant and legitimate, and they go all the way to the top of baseball. The greatest concern from those at the league instituting replay wasn't the technology. It was the pace of game and what replay would do. Most of the time, I think, the home office is going to do a lot better than the on-field umpires would. And ultimately, if the technology is there to get the call right, it's incumbent on the league to do as much.
Hopefully, over the next few years, not only will the league streamline replay to make it as efficient as possible but enforce simple rules like staying in the batter's box that could knock time off the game. Will it be enough? Much of it depends on the effectiveness of MLB's system. I'm OK with it for now, but then I'm someone who can sit and watch a four-hour game without pause. The greatest litmus test will be the average fan, and once a reply takes too long or doesn't overturn a wrong call, the howls will come and the complaints will flow. Over time, as long as the league recognizes and acknowledges them, they will abate.''
-Jeff Passan, lead baseball columnist at Yahoo! Sports
``I agree it could extend the time of games.
Imagine a Red Sox-Yankee game which regularly drags on to 3 1/2 hours or more? Add several challenges and the required reviews and you'd have to take a nap to get through. Baseball already suffers from games that are too long for the modern society to cope with. We have become an ADD world, unfortunately. Add several replays a game and TV sets will be shut off across America.
Lastly, when did human error in a sporting event become actionable? The history of sport is filled with - and better for - the occasional human error. That should not only apply to the players. Umpires are proven right most of the time. Not all because they are not in fallible. Human error makes the whole exercise more, well, human!’’
-Ron Borges, sportswriter for The Boston Herald
``I cover the Yankees. Four-hour games were already a possibility every time I went to work. I'd rather see them get the plays right. If it takes a few minutes longer, so be it.’’
-Mark Feinsand, Yankees beat writer for the N.Y. Daily News
``Before the technologies in replays, particular digitally, were common, everyone was concerned about the length of games. Umps were encouraged to do all they could to speed up play. Length of games no longer became a topic of conversation. But now that mistakes are blown up on screens the size of moving vans, the mistakes are more obvious. That, apparently, has trumped everyone's list of grievances, including length of games. I could see this adding five to 10 minutes to games, but I don't think it will be a big problem. The important thing is to get it right, even if it takes a little longer.’’
-Kevin Sherrington, sports columnist, Dallas Morning News
``My first impulse is, too much too soon. But I think what would've been better would've been a limited intro so we could see for a full year just how much time we're talking about game to game, and how quickly disputes will be resolved.’’
-Mike Vaccaro, lead sports columnist for The New York Post
``There will be hiccups. But I talked with Tony La Russa about it, and he's confident that the delays will be minimal. They need to make sure on challenge plays that no argument allowed. ‘’
-Troy Renck, Colorado Rockies beat writer for The Denver Post
``I don't think the time of game issue is terribly significant. There really aren't that many plays in the average baseball game that will require review (probably an average of two or fewer) and the time taken to review them should be offset by the time not taken for the manage.''
-Peter Schmuck, sports columnist and blogger for The Baltimore Sun
``I haven't studied the new rules to the point of making a full judgment. But I'm against challenges in any sport. Once you've run out of challenges (before the 7th inning, in MLB's case), you can't use the technology. And I fear the games will run long with managers deciding whether to challenge. Apparently, they or their coaches will be able to check replays before making that decision. I also think the umpiring review crew should be on-site, and that they should make all decisions on whether to watch replays.’’
-Bruce Jenkins, national sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
January 23, 2014