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If replay is expanded, it can’t have a challenge system

Nov 2, 2012, 1:30 PM EDT

Robinson Cano, Omar Infante AP

Howard Bryant has an article in ESPN the Magazine about expanded replay and some of its potential worrisome unintended consequences.  It’s a good piece, noting the untenable nature of the league’s traditional insistence that it always has and always will survive blown calls.  It also has an interesting quote from Tony La Russa — Bud Selig’s point man on these sorts of matters — which puts lie to the idea Selig keeps floating about how no one really cares about replay. Seems, per Mr. La Russa, that they do.

The general upshot, though, surrounds how problematic it would be to implement a challenge system, noting that in other sports such as tennis — with which Bryant is intimately familiar — challenge systems create some altogether new problems, such as umpires afraid of overruling the line judges and then, themselves, being overruled by a challenge.

I asked Bryant on Twitter about why he assumes a challenge system and he said that he doesn’t personally, but that a challenge system is what Major League Baseball officials are talking about.  I really hope that’s not the league’s focus, because a challenge system seems like the worst possible option. Both for the reasons Bryant notes in his article and because it would do maximum damage to the game flow that MLB itself seems most interested in preventing.  Fixing one problem — blown calls — should neither create more nor fundamentally change baseball strategy, which would certainly happen. Give a manager a lever, he’s gonna pull it.

The only workable option for a rigorous and useful replay system would be to have the umpires manage it themselves as a closed system. Put a fifth ump in the booth and make him a full member of the umpiring crew. Have him be the eye in the sky who is only heard from if he sees something his colleagues missed.  Make it explicit that umpires will not be penalized or judged harshly by the league for getting initial calls wrong or being overturned by replay.

The most important thing is to make replay a tool for the umpires to do a better job, not a threat that risks exposing them when they do a poor one.

  1. Jeremy T - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    I enjoy the idea of adding some strategic decisions, but I don’t think that replay is the place for it. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of large strategic changes for baseball in general, since the sport places such a high value on its history. Eye in the sky really seems like the only logical way to go, since it keeps the game moving along and doesn’t change the actual rules of the game. The challenge flag is great for football, since they don’t have any problem with today’s NFL being a completely different sport than that of 20 or 30 years ago, but baseball should really do their best to minimize those kinds of changes.

    • natslady - Nov 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      Although I certainly enjoy the “intellectual” fun of watching one manager out-manage another, you really go to see the players compete, not the managers–and I say this as a fan of a team with a smart manager. If you add challenges, that is just another place for managers’ tactics to show up. The purpose behind replay should be to enhance the athletic competition.

  2. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    challenge systems create some altogether new problems, such as umpires afraid of overruling the line judges and then, themselves, being overruled by a challenge.

    So it’s basically an ego issue then. Thank god we don’t have any of those problems with our current set of umpires.

    • gibbyfan - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:19 PM

      We have technology today that could not have been dreamed of in the recent past. Watching the egregiously blown calls during the playoffs, I wondered if it occurred to the the Commissioner that with the use of instant, and I emphasize instant, replay millions of viewers knew the correct call –only the umps on the field didnt. That is simply insane by any standard.
      Why not have an ump in the press box in communication with the field empowered to make a call when necessary. It probably wouldnt slow the game by a second and would only risk bruising the egos of umps who wuld have to pay a little more attention to competence.

  3. uwsptke - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    This makes much more sense, sort of like the difference between watching BigTen football vs the NFL. It takes so much more time for the head coach to get the information he needs upstairs to decide whether or not to challenge, then the official has to go “under the hood” for an extended period of time, all the while basically saying at the outset of the contest, “Hey, we don’t know how many calls we might blow today, but you can challenge two of them if you’d like!” A challenge system in baseball would be more trouble than just adding the extra manpower to be the eye in the sky.

  4. historiophiliac - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    What Joe West needs to know is: Can he still toss someone from his perch high above? (And, will the camera cut to him when he does it so he can still mug his mean face?)

  5. stex52 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    No challenge needed. There is no such thing as perfection. If we make things 90% better, then we have accomplished what we need.

    • madhatternalice - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:09 PM

      I agree that no challenge is needed, but 90% better isn’t good enough. Teams have progressed far from the “heard about this pitcher down in Butterfield?” days, so why shouldn’t the entity entrusted with ensuring the accuracy of these games step into the 21st century too?

  6. historiophiliac - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Also, don’t we already kind of have a challenge system?

    • cur68 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      Yeah, I think that’s called “appealing to the base ump on the swing” or asking for a consult on a close play. In essence, The Booth Ump would be one of the people they go to for the “appeal” pending the ump on the spot agreeing to do so. Save a lot of grief and the sight of guys getting tossed willy nilly. Anyhow, add a Booth Ump and that’s it, IMO.

      • historiophiliac - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:56 PM

        But, for the record, I couldn’t bear it if coaches couldn’t charge out of the dugout to argue a play.

      • cur68 - Nov 2, 2012 at 3:39 PM

        Oh, they still would: that’s the beauty of it, see? Lets say its Guillen, right? His boy (lets say he’s managing Mud Hens and they’ve got this Booth Ump, right?) gets hosed on the slide into 2nd on a straight steal: was safe, called out. The Hen pops up, starts argufying like a mo-fo. Ozzie charges out of the coop, mad as a wet Mud Hen. DEMANDS that they appeal to the Booth Ump. Lets say its Joe West (he’d quit umping to focus on his singing career. It went nowhere. So sad. He wasn’t Carrie Underwood, like he’d hoped. He’s gotta eat, Quatto needs the tears of ballplayers: West needed a job. Only gig he could get was umping AAA games) refuses to “go upstairs”. Says he was right there, saw it clear as anything. Gullien threatens to “whup you fat ass, West”. Gets tossed. Extended Guillen rage ensues. See? With no rule that the ump-on-the-spot HAS to go to the Booth Ump (very much like there’s no rule that says the Home Plate Ump HAS to go to the Base Ump on the check swing) West can still be West and we still get extended Rage. Meanwhile, up in the booth, a note is being made…

      • historiophiliac - Nov 2, 2012 at 3:50 PM

        All I got outta that was RAGE!

      • nbjays - Nov 3, 2012 at 8:56 AM

        With Joe West and Ozzie involved, that’s pretty much all you COULD get outta that, Philiac.

  7. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    It should be something like what the NHL has: a “command centre” of sorts where officials are watching every play of every game and can intervene when they see something that was missed by the on-field officials. They know what can and can’t be overturned, so no time would ever be wasted by coaches trying to challenge a play that can’t be reviewed.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:23 PM

      If memory serves me correctly, those guys are also responsible for quality control, logging who’s making the calls and who’s missing them. Surely the MLB could use something like that.

    • indaburg - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      This is by far the most elegant and logical solution to the problem therefore it will make no sense whatsoever to Bud Selig.

    • natstowngreg - Nov 2, 2012 at 3:41 PM

      The NHL system has come up in previous discussions of expanded replay. IMHO, it works well for the NHL, and I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t work for MLB. Whether the replay officials are at game sites or in a central office, they would be relying on the same basic technology. It likely would be less expensive having a central office, if only in terms of travel costs.

      I’d rather not see a challenge system like the NFL’s. It’s not about the time to resolve a challenge; as a fan, I’m willing to endure the wait to get a correct call. It’s about the limits on challenges, which limits the ability to correct calls. Incorrect calls can stand if a coach runs out of challenges. Also, the NFL itself is moving away from reliance on coaches’ challenges. All plays with touchdowns, and all plays with turnovers, are reviewed. The latter is new this year.

      • natslady - Nov 2, 2012 at 4:13 PM

        Yeah, and all that reviewing REALLY slows down the game, as if it weren’t slow enough already. I read that in a 3 hour football game there is something like 9 minutes of actual ACTION. If MLB implements review, it needs to be automatic and fast.

  8. foreverchipper10 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    Where can I apply to be the umpire in the sky? I can be better than the other guy if you just let me try. Pie.

  9. brenenostler - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    How would a challenge system even work? If you lose a challenge, you get an out, if you’re batting? And if you lose a challenge in the field, you lose an outfielder for the next out? I don’t know how it would work, but it wouldn’t be a good idea. It would definitely change the way baseball has been played since it first started.

    At best, just let the umpires review plays on their own terms. But even then I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Players, managers, and fans argue with calls all the time that, when shown on TV, reveal that the ump got the call right. But the umps would face much more pressure to review every single questionable call, knowing they have the ability to do so. And the game would take so much longer, if every questionable call was reviewed.

    Heck, maybe one day, the MLB would just decide it didn’t need umps anymore and let technology call every ball, strike, and out.

    • Bryz - Nov 2, 2012 at 4:34 PM

      Please don’t even make it seem like taking outs or fielders away is a logical penalty for losing the challenge.

      The only issue I see the umpires controlling the replay system is if a play was indeed called correctly, but the team that was hurt by the ruling disagrees and then gets upset when the call is not overturned. I think the manager should still keep the ability to ask for a challenge, but is not penalized if he is still wrong. And dear god, please no challenge flags.

  10. joshfrancis50 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    Do you know why you don’t need a challenge system? Because in 5 seconds an umpire in the booth can tell you whether its fair/foul, caught/trapped, tagged/safe, etc. It really is that simple.

  11. Walk - Nov 2, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    If you lose a challenge you lose a challenge and have none for the rest of the game. If you really need to have a penalty then you could lose the next games challenge and have to play the next game without one. Back to the article i think mlb’s whole stance is off. It really feels like they are taking the whole stance that making a game changing mistake and not getting caught is better than making any mistake however minor and getting shown as fallible. In essence umpires cannot make a mistake to the point it is better for a blown game to happen than for an umpires to be overruled and shown as human. Changing topic slightly i believe that umpires get graded on their performance now. That is a step toward tranperancy. Make those grades public and add expanded replay, challenge or otherwise, and continue to make the game more of what it should be, which is a team sport decided on the field by how it is played and managed.

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