RSS
Baseball's misguided plan to copy the NFL's instant replay format
Good news: Baseball is close to expanding instant replay. Bad news: The plan stinks.
Expect a lot more game delays.
Expect a lot more game delays. Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
M

ajor League Baseball on Thursday unveiled a long overdue plan to greatly expand the use of instant replay starting in 2014.

Under the proposed policy basically every play except calls on balls and strikes would be reviewable. Under existing rules, umpires are only allowed to review calls on potential home runs. Owners are expected to green-light the proposal, which would also need approval from the players and umpires, at their next meeting in November.

But while the move toward expanded instant replay is welcome one, the league has found a way to botch the specifics.

From USA Today's Bob Nightengale:

The replay will include up to three challenges that mangers will be provided during a game, one in the first six innings, and two beginning in the seventh inning through the game's duration. If a manager is successful with his replay challenge, he will not be charged with a review.

If a manager exhausts his three challenges, an umpire crew can make a review of its own only to determine home-run calls, a rule that will be grandfathered in with the new regulations. [USA Today]

Sound familiar? The challenge format is essentially what is already in place in the NFL, where coaches can, with the toss of a red flag, call for a review.

Get ready to see your team's manager stalk out of the dugout a couple of times per game to do this:

Alright, so there are no plans for managers to actually throw a challenge flag a la the NFL, but the idea is still problematic for a couple of reasons.

The change is "absolutely stupid" and a "total passing of the buck," says Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra, because it puts the onus on managers, not umps, to get things right.

"The entire point of replay is to get calls right, not to only get calls right when a manager decides to employ a certain strategy," he writes. "Put in a challenge system and the manager has to decide: 'hmmm, should I say something about that obvious mistake the umpires just made, or should I let if pass in case there’s another mistake later?'"

ESPN's Buster Olney made a similar criticism:

The proposed change also has the potential to add frivolous arguments — and by extension, more empty minutes — to every game.

To many, baseball games as boring, drawn-out affairs. Even Google thinks so.

An average game this year has taken almost three hours to complete, according to the Boston Globe, up about a half hour from a half century ago. Add manager challenges, and that will only go up, possibly by quite a bit.

A better idea in circulation would be for the league to just add an extra umpire to every game whose sole job is to sit in a booth and review plays, on the spot, without causing much of a delay. Under the proposed plan, reviews will be conducted from a crew stationed in MLB's New York headquarters.

Here's how that might look: A manager comes out to argue; the crew chief wanders off to call New York; a review squad in Manhattan confers over a replay, then phones back to the game; the crew chief comes back on the field with the decision; the manager (maybe) throws a little fit and goes back to the dugout; play resumes. Meanwhile, fans at the game are booing, and fans at home are flipping over to Big Bang Theory reruns.

That said, a move toward more replay is better than nothing, and the league can always smooth out the kinks if and when a new policy goes into effect.

Jon Terbush is a staff writer for TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week