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The unintended consequences of the replay challenge system

Aug 20, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT

Reader Chris Rochon tweeted a good question to me a little while ago:

The “neighborhood play” meaning those times, especially on double plays, where the runner is called out at second even if the shortstop or second baseman doesn’t tag the bag when he has the ball. It’s very common and allowed because allowing it is in the interest of protecting players from getting their legs broken. But yes, technically, those plays should not result in outs under the rules.

So what happens to that in a challenge system? My guess — unless MLB specifically prohibits challenges on neighborhood plays — we get a varying system where neighborhood plays aren’t challenged in blowouts but are in close games where a runner on second means a lot. And in order to prevent that, shortstops will hold the bag longer in order to get the runner and eventually someone gets hurt.

Or, if we’re lucky enough to where that doesn’t happen, we get into dumb arguments about the “unwritten rules” of challenges. Where it’s sometimes OK to do it and sometimes OK not to and it just adds another layer of derp to these sorts of discussions like we’ve seen when someone bunts to break up no-hitters or steals a base when up by six runs. That’s uplifting. Let’s call it the “full employment for talk show radio hosts rule.”

On the other hand, if MLB does outlaw challenges on neighborhood plays, it has essentially institutionalized the neighborhood play, which it has never seen fit to do before. Which will open the floor, logic dictates, to other safety-driven defacto rule changes. Catcher collisions maybe? Which, hey, that’s cool. I’d be open to talk about all of that stuff. Larry Granillo wrote about the neighborhood play a little while ago and, as he pointed out, maybe it’d be a good thing if it were gone.

MLB just needs to realize, though, that when it takes the application of the rules out of the hands of umpires and into the hands of the managers it looses control of the situation pretty quickly, the game gets changed and it has to do a lot of work to make sure things are even-handedly applied. None of which I think it intended when it proposed a challenge system.

  1. jm91rs - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    I would love to see the neighborhood play disappear. In a game where an inch inside or outside matters so much, I see no reason that a player shouldn’t be forced to make an actual out in order to record an out. I’m surprised how often this phantom stuff happens. The results of the games are too important for fake outs to impact it.

    • nategearhart - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:16 PM

      I’m totally with you, but I would also hope MLB would get a lot tougher on take-out slides to go along with it.

      • baseballer28 - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:53 PM

        Have you ever played this game? Why don’t you try to hold the bag a little longer with a 6’4″ 225 lbs dude bearing down on you. Yeah. Fucking Posers.

      • natstowngreg - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:56 PM

        This is key, IMHO.

        By all means, enforce the rules. However, if enforcing a rule causes players to get hurt, then the rule is the problem–not the enforcement.

      • kevinbnyc - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        Why is baseball the only sport where douches say things like “HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED THIS GAME?!?!?!?”

        There are rules. One of them is, “You have to touch the base in possession of the ball to get a guy out.” If that’s too dangerous, the thing making it dangerous needs to be addressed, not the other way around.

      • nategearhart - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:16 PM

        baseballer28, It’s really simple. The defender should stay on the base or the runner is safe. The “6’4″ 225 lbs dude bearing down” should be severely punished if he attempts a takeout slide or otherwise purposefully endangers the defender. If you ever expect your opinions to be taken seriously, grow the fuck up and quit insulting complete strangers.

  2. Joe - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/08/19/boston-fan-taunts-alex-rodriguez-with-a-misspelled-sign/

    • Jeremy T - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw that. For people who missed it, in the last paragraph: “into the hands of the managers it looses control of the situation pretty quickly”

    • pjmarn6 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:35 AM

      baseballer28 ever hear of swiping the bag after you received the ball? You don’t have to stand on the bag to get the out. You want to play the game, you obey the rules. You miss the bag intentionally or unintentionally, you don’t get the out. I have seen beautiful swipes and wonderful double plays. HOW DO YOU KNOW that the player didn’t unintentionally miss the bag? First basemen have to have their feet on the bag. Catchers block the plate, even if they don’t have the ball. Players caught stealing have to be tagged with the ball in the player’s glove. It’s part of the game. You want to play/watch a non contact sport watch polo or volleyball.

  3. largebill - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    The application of rules should be done honestly.

  4. cggarb - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    I’ve been saying this for a week now. The late-inning, rally-killing double-play will simply go away. Given the risk/reward, I think I’d challenge almost every GIDP. Trade one of your challenges for an out and a RISP? Done.

    Bigger picture: Breaking sport down to millisecond-sized bites inevitably leads to unnatural rule interpretations. Which leads to absurd results. Which leads to a second layer of rule interpretations designed to fix the first absurd result, but creates a second one. Etc. Etc.

    Replay (specifically, slow-motion replay) is going to do what it did for football: Take what used to be fairly simple, “organic” calls and turn them into a jury-rigged set of rules-begat-rules and an overly litigated circus. Once, a referee simply had to ask “did the receiver catch the ball and get both feet in bounds.” Now, we have nonsense about “football moves,” and “going to the ground.”

    Baseball is probably less susceptible to this than football, but there are many calls that everyone accepts, but which simply can’t bear scrutiny upon slo-mo replay. The neighborhood play is one. Another one is where the throw beats the runner by a mile, but the tag is up and down to avoid injury. I’m sure there are more.

  5. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    You also, get into an argument over the varying degrees over which is a neighborhood play. How close does the play have to be before it’s worthy of a flag? What about when the first baseman comes off the bag a split second early to keep his ankle from getting crushed? What about when a double play is turned and a player comes off the bag a half second before they have complete control on the transfer?

    On the secondary topic of safety, I’d have no problems with a mandatory slide at the plate rule for safety. Get rid of those collisions, they’re unnecessary. I also don’t see a problem with a second first base (Typically orange) in foul territory to help prevent collisions at first.

  6. paint771 - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    Uhhh, not to point out the obvious Craig, but if replay is instituted WITHOUT manager challenges, i.e. with the “let’s get all calls right” rubric that you’ve pushed for, then the neighborhood play is gone altogether. Meaning, of all three scenarios (no replay, manager challenge replay, all replay), it’s the third scenario wherein the kinds of injuries you mentioned are MOST likely.

    I agree with you on replay, btw, but if we’re shooting for clinical logic, you kinda go all the way.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      How is that so? Umps don’t let the neighborhood play go now because they don’t see it. They decide, in their judgment, to call a player out regardless. They would still do that now. If a manager challenged their looser interpretation of the rule the ump could ignore them as they do now.

      • paint771 - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:56 PM

        Oh then maybe I misunderstood you. I thought what you’ve been calling for is a “man in the booth” whose mandate it is to get all calls right and who alerts the crew on a play they feel was called incorrectly?

        Or is it instead up to the crew chief to call up to the man in the booth, at his own discretion, as a voluntary call-in on plays he’s unsure of (or, in this case, feels like calling correctly)?

        Either way then you’re implicitly not advocating for “getting all calls right”, but “getting them right or wrong based on what so and so feels is in the best interest of baseball?”

      • pjmarn6 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:40 AM

        King CACA is not for rules. He has already came out in favor of steroids and PEDs. He wants someone on some world series winning team to give him a faux world series ring to show off.

      • Francisco (FC) - Aug 21, 2013 at 10:19 AM

        f a manager challenged their looser interpretation of the rule the ump could ignore them as they do now.

        There you go again, misspelling loser :)

  7. paperlions - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    The lack of control already exists. The rules are the rules and should be called as written. Allowing the umpires to make calls while ignoring the rule book is no better than allowing managers to choose to challenge calls in which the umpire has CHOSEN not to make a call according to the rules.

  8. cohnjusack - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Easy solution: step on the fucking base.

  9. tcostant - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Better question is what happen to guys on base. Will the umprires be making more judgement calls on what base these guys would end on.

  10. rmcd13 - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    Baseball needs to implement a rule that says something like “No baserunner may initiate contact with a fielder. The penalty for doing so is an automatic out and ejection, with suspension for repeat offenders. Unintentional contact shall be ruled at the umpire’s discretion. If a baserunner must change their running path to avoid a fielder who does not have possession of the ball (or is in the process of fielding a batted ball), it is fielders interference and the runner is entitled to the next base.”

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:46 PM

      Works in my softball league, it could certainly work in MLB.

  11. blacksables - Aug 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    Managers will never challenge for the same reason they don’t argue about it now.

    If they take it away from the other team, the other team is going to take it away from them.

    Status quo. And not the band.

    • albertmn - Aug 20, 2013 at 9:01 PM

      The reason managers don’t argue it now is because the umps will never call it, not because they are worried about what the other team might challenge/argue. How often do you see umps change a call after an argument, maybe a couple of times a year over all MLB games? And, then usually only if it is a question of a rule interpretation that another ump on the crew will clarify. Managers will take any advantage they can get and yell at their own guys to not come off the base early.

      • blacksables - Aug 21, 2013 at 4:29 AM

        No, you’re wrong, and you’re trying to make a point about something that doesn’t exist.

        The umpires don’t call it because the managers don’t want them to. That’s been happening since long before the games were televised, so trying to throw the replay angle into doesn’t work.

        Also: ‘Managers will take any advantage they can get and yell at their own guys to not come off the base early.’

        Have you ever seen an actual baseball game?

  12. brentsalish - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    Has anyone on this thread either played the game – specifically middle infield – at a high level, or umpired? First, let’s define neighborhood play – the fielder was in the neighborhood of the bag while in control of the ball and touched the bag as part of the play just before catching (or just after releasing) the ball. In other words, most umps in three- or four-man rotations will catch the open straddle but call an out on the out-of-sequence tag of the base. Why? Two reasons. First, as people have noted, there is the safety issue. Spikes stick in the bag, giving the fielder’s foot no place to go on contact with a sliding runner. As an ump and ex-2B guy, I think this is a generally good idea, and I really wish it would be extended to catcher’s blocking the plate without the ball. Second, the ump has only one set of eyes, with which he (or she, occasionally) can watch eitherthe ball into the glove or the foot on the bag. To see both requires either being too far away to see a bobble clearly or moving your head. At first, you can listen for the ball while watching the bag. However, the 2B/SS transfer is a soft toss, rarely audible even without crowd noise. Is that ideal? It’s baseball.

    • brentsalish - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      “Catchers,” no apostrophe. Why doesn’t this thing have an edit function!?

    • albertmn - Aug 20, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      Either change the rule book, or call it as the rule book states. I don’t care if anyone played the game at any specific position or not. That is always the dumbest argument! I never played any sport at a professional level, but that doesn’t mean I am unable to watch pro sports and understand rules, some strategy, and to be able to see what is or is not an out in baseball.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:40 PM

      Not even close to true. Sorry. I have seen (many times) fielders NEVER touch the bag at any point near the play and get the out at second. And yes, I have done it myself. This is exactly the problem with the neighborhood play: it is entirely subjective yet critically important. There is an absolutely objective way to judge this play, yet umpires are given tremendous latitude. If we instead force the umpires to call the play for what it was, but give the umpires latitude in calling interference, we can have a true standard and reduce the risk of injury. In what way is that not superior to the current system?

  13. Marty McKee - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    No neighborhood plays ever at any time. No extra orange base on the first base line. No mandatory slides. Good grief, fellas, is this major league baseball or slow pitch softball?

    • albertmn - Aug 20, 2013 at 9:05 PM

      What’s wrong with the orange base if it prevents injuries? Too much macho BS? Too stubborn to admit that some other sport may have come up with a decent idea before baseball did?

  14. km9000 - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    Won’t this (implicitly) be like other subjective call like infield flies or “running out of the baseline” plays? Maybe the manager argues only if he thinks the fielder was given excessive leeway, like now, but still wouldn’t challenge.

    All defenders do it and benefit from it, so I can’t imagine a manager wanting to set a precedent if it ultimately hinders his own players as a result.

    • albertmn - Aug 20, 2013 at 9:06 PM

      What is subjective about whether or not a player had control of the ball at the same time as touching the base? No other call could possibly be any more objective.

  15. jdillydawg - Aug 20, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    I think this is just one of many unintended consequences of instant replay.

    The other one I can think of is the average length of a ballgame increasing by an hour or two.

    Instant replay. Bad. Bad. Bad.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      I can see the correct call at home in about 5 seconds. Hell, they can play in on the Jumbo-tron at the stadium in most parks. That should take less time than arguments, umpire huddles, etc etc.

      Even if the game were to be made marginally longer, isn’t that a small price to pay for getting the calls right?

      • km9000 - Aug 20, 2013 at 6:19 PM

        If there’s a tradeoff that involves getting pitchers and hitters to dawdle less between pitches, I’d take it.

        It’ll be interesting to see if managers still heatedly argue a call, yet deem that a play isn’t quite crucial enough to use a challenge on.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 20, 2013 at 6:21 PM

        There already is a rule about the time pitchers have between pitches. It just needs some enforcement (automatic ball). I am not sure if the equivalent rule for the batter already exists, but it should

      • jdillydawg - Aug 20, 2013 at 7:24 PM

        Too high in my opinion. Bad calls are a part of the game. They’re a part of life.

        That aside, two people can still have very different views of a situation, so it won’t surprise me to see two umps disagreeing over a play rather frequently.

        It’s like the NFL. Why does the network have a color commentator on there to tell the viewers whether or not the ref got the call right. He used instant replay. OF COURSE he got it right.

        Right?

        I guess the upshot of this is that a whole new class of commentators have been born, which could be a boost to the economy…

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 20, 2013 at 11:45 PM

        You are arguing on both sides of the issue. If you don’t like to bullshit color commentary on blown calls, the solution is to eliminate blown calls.

        If the argument is that sometimes errors are unavoidable, I agree. I happen to also think errors should be avoided when they ARE avoidable, and replay means most umpiring errors are avoidable with about 5 seconds ot consideration and instant replay. That is a trade-off I will take 7 days a week and twice on Monday.

      • km9000 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:25 AM

        I agree that the umps just need to enforce the time rules (and be pushed to do so by the league).

        I think a couple of lockouts ago, the NHL drastically reduced the amount of idle time allowed between stoppages in play. If they could do it, it seems like baseball could.

        If a game gets slowed down because of lengthy reviews, and pitchers keep wandering around the mound, I think the umps and fans would get pretty restless.

    • pjmarn6 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:46 AM

      The reason for the increased time of the games is to get in all the commercials to pay for the ridiculously paid ball players. Call it right.

  16. hunterbishop2013 - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    Has the procedure been established for how much time a manager will have to challenge a play? And will the manager be able to view the replay before challenging?
    Also, this replay plan does not address the most insidious fault with umpires, their inability or unwillingness to call balls and strikes fairly and consistently. How can it be that a professional major league umpire can be fooled into calling a ball a strike by a catcher drawing the ball in slightly toward the plate immediately upon catching it, when everyone else can see what happened? It’s absurd and umps’ inconsistencies drive batters and battery mates batty, causing arguments, delays, ejections, etc. Technology could take care of the strike zone problem, I’m sure, even better than instant replay could fix missed calls on the field, I think. But I’d much rather just have better umpires.

  17. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 20, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    If defenses want the neighborhood play, they must make some concession to the offense. I mean, if a ball is really close to the wall it should be a HR. We don’t want outfielders getting hurt by crashing into walls. Really, anything at the warning track or farther should just be a dinger, m’kay?

    That, or get rid of the “neighborhood play” and allowing interference with fielders.

  18. hughhansen - Aug 20, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    I’ve seen a number of runners called safe on the neighborhood play in recent years, and have consequently seen more fielders staying on bag in double plays.

    I assumed it had to do with umpires fear of being second guessed in replays. It follows the trend of umpires closely watching plays where the balls beats the runner to make sure the tag is actually made.

    I figured the neighborhood play was already on its way to an early death.

  19. pjmarn6 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:49 AM

    Teach the infielders how to do swipes correctly and play the game correctly. Injuries are part of every game and most of the players on the injury list are non contact injuries. KING CARA is just starting a controversy to get people to read his shit or he gets canned.

    • pjmarn6 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:50 AM

      Should be KING CACA.

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