MLB Instant Replay: A Major Reason Why Baseball Games Are Too Long
In 2003 and again in 2004, as Assistant General Manager and Director of Major League Operations for the Cincinnati Reds, I drafted the MLB instant replay proposal we presented at the GM Meetings. The idea at the time was it made no sense for viewers watching a game on television to have the benefit of instant replay while umpires and managers argued on the field without the same benefit.
However, the goal was never to dig into the minutia of nit-picking every single close call. Unfortunately, it’s exactly what the current version of this process seems to have morphed into. If Major League Baseball is concerned its games are too long, perhaps they should start by fixing the botched implementation of instant replay. According to the original architect of video review for MLB, this was never how it was intended.
Simple question: Does debating every close call throughout a three hour sporting event using MLB instant replay add to its entertainment value? Is is imperative for every call to be correct, no matter how long it takes to reach those conclusions? I would submit seeing an exciting, well-executed game played by top athletes is the goal, not umpire perfection. Obviously, MLB doesn’t want botched calls, but understand the fact bang-bang calls are a part of the game and can go either way.
The rationale behind proposing the use of MLB instant replay through video review was to save the game from a stigma of egregiously blown calls as a recurring storyline — Think Don Denkinger inexplicably calling Jorge Orta safe at first base in the 1985 World Series. Another example is Richie Garcia failing to call fan interference in the 1996 ALCS when young Jeffrey Maier clearly reached over the right field fence to pull Derek Jeter’s fly ball into the stands. Even regular season games have been marred by blown calls which could have been avoided with MLB instant replay. Jim Joyce blew the call on the final out of Armando Galarraga’s would-be perfect game on a June night in 2010.
Three fine umpires, all associated with famously blown calls which completely overshadowed a historical MLB event. The intent of MLB instant replay was to allow the umpires a mechanism to avoid indignity after an honest, but critical mistake. Never was the purpose, “because every call needed to be right.”
In fact, push-back which delayed implementation by a decade revolved around fear the pace of gameplay would be negatively impacted. Those concerns have proven true.
MLB Instant Replay: The Process
On any close play — even in the first inning, it’s comical to see the manager saunter onto the field at the pace of a leisurely Sunday stroll to dispute a call. When he finally reaches the umpire, the manager engages in meaningless small talk (“How about this weather…? Where are you having dinner after the game…?”), while he buys time for the “video review coach” to investigate whether or not to lodge a formal “protest” of the call. Quite often, the delay results in no official review because the video coach advises against it. And even when a review is requested, the process involves a convoluted process of the play being reviewed off site and umpires being told what the correct call was. As this is happening, spectators sit idly and wait for the game to resume.
For clearly wrong calls — especially at a critical time — such a delay is necessary as a means of avoiding a game-altering mistake. However, I suspect the post-season will highlight over-zealous video review in unnecessary situations. Even in the playoffs, every close play doesn’t require the use of MLB instant replay. The process can negatively impact the pace of baseball in October — the most important time of year.
Video review is a good thing, when utilized properly, but how does baseball ensure instant replay is a positive addition to the game while improving the pace of play? Here is my solution:
Make it similar to the NFL where each manager has a red flag which can be thrown onto the field to request a challenge (Managers love to throw things on the field when they disagree with a call. Why not make it part of the fun). The flag must be thrown before the next pitch, just as in the NFL (The time between pitches will speed up as teams rush to throw the next pitch before the opponent can review the video!).
After the third out of the inning, the manager has until the last defensive player reaches the dugout, or the last position player reaches his position, depending on which call comes under dispute (Talk about players hustling on and off the field). Each manager has two challenges per game. If correct, both are kept. When MLB embraces the process to make it a strategic part of the action, the result will be a more exciting game at a faster pace while making sure the important calls are right. MLB instant replay can and should be better.
30 Sep 2014 / Brad Kullman /
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