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More about the unintended consequences of replay

Aug 21, 2013, 11:05 AM EDT

Ben Revere, Bob Davidson AP

In the past several days I have considered some unintended consequence of the replay challenge system. I kind of like thinking about such things and encourage all of you to do the same so that we won’t be surprised when they happen.

I think this observation from reader Tim W. would apply to either a fifth umpire system or a challenge system — and it’s not a criticism; merely an observation — but it is yet another way that replay will change the game in subtle ways. Specifically: players will — or should be — trained to play for four outs:

Will teams now play to 4 outs per inning?   Runners on 1st and 2nd, one out.  Ground ball that looks like a double play with a neighborhood tag of second and a close play at first.  Should be inning ending.  Now the runner on second continues to round third and is headed toward home.  Does the defense give up and assume both outs will be upheld and does the runner head to the dugout.  OR does the runner continue toward home, the first baseman throws home, there is a collision at the plate.  Your catcher just got ran over because you were not sure of the outs being upheld or the offense scores a run on the appeal … There would seem to be endless possibilities if you begin to review every aspect of the game.  Why is the out at first more or less important than strike 3/ball 4.  That out or lack thereof, is one of twenty-seven, just as the play at first.

There has been a lot of talk about where to put runners on overturned calls, the issues facing “continuation plays” as it were.  I feel like there will be at least an initial bias to putting runners back to where they actually got to on the play as opposed to sending them backwards on the basepaths in the interests of undoing what would not have been done.  Not intentionally, but because it will make umpires feel like they’re interfering with natural play more than they really are. Just sort of a psychological quirk.

Smart teams will start to take advantage of that. They’ll tell their runners and fielders to keep moving. To treat the game like there are four outs an inning so as to gain maximal advantage on overturned calls.

  1. Kevin S. - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    I disagree. “Out” stops the baserunner. You play the play out based on that. If it turns out the guy at second was actually safe, then he gets to keep the base. It’s an improvement over incorrectly being called out. Yeah, it sucks that he loses continuation, but I think that’s going to have to be your tradeoff.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:19 AM

      I think that’s almost certainly going to have to be the way it works, and it seems the most rational course of action.

      I guess the follow-up question, then, is if umpires will start being more conservative with calls (favoring a safe call over an out call) in order to allow players to get the continuation of the play, knowing that if they’re wrong, it can be fixed on replay. Ideally, that’s not going to be the case, but many fans believe that’s the sort of thing that’s happened in the NFL, with officials favoring the call that allows play to continue, knowing they can “fix it” on replay.

      • Kevin S. - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:25 AM

        I could possibly see that on catch/trap and fair/foul calls in the outfield, but not so much on force plays in the infield. The scenario proposed is an incredibly rare one that would likely only take place because of the quirks of replay, not an everyday occurrence. And if baseball went with the booth umpire, it actually wouldn’t be the end of the world to favor not killing the play, because it would be quick enough and easy enough to fix (unlike the NFL, where the scrum often makes it very difficult to conclusively review such plays and it takes much longer to go through the review process).

      • Kevin S. - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:29 AM

        Actually, I take that back, bias either way on catch/trap is an issue. If it’s a catch called a trap, then wrong initial call robs defense of the chance at doubling a runner off. If it’s a trap called a catch, then wrong initial call robs offense of the chance at extra bases. Call it as you see it, then if it’s wrong you at least can fix the most egregious error (whether or not the batter was out or safe).

      • commonsenseisnotcmonman - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:51 PM

        Its a trap! – Admiral Ackbar, Phillies Announcer

    • ezthinking - Aug 21, 2013 at 5:20 PM

      Nice try Tim W., and Craig, but you’re worried about nothing.

      All other sports stop with the whistle, play is dead. An “out” call is the same. “Safe” call obviously play continues.

      Call of “out” play stops just as a homerun cal, ball comes back onto the field and the runner is tagged and the replay is reviewed to be found in play the call is a double.

  2. jdillydawg - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    Great point. Pretty unfair to send a runner back after he scores simply because the call was wrong and the runner was safe due to the neighborhood play. “But at least we got the call right.” Which, in reality, they didn’t, because had the call been right, the run would have scored. The game has to be looked at as a whole, and in a case like this, it is being ignored in favor of that one spot of focus.

    If they play for four outs, that means we’re looking at, technically, 36 outs being made during a game to ensure the team gets all 27. That adds a full hour to the game.

    Instant replay. Bad.

  3. thehakko936 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    The first challenge of a “neighborhood” double play is going to be very interesting.

    The other rule that should be insituted with this replay concept is anyone who gets into an argument with the officiating crew should be ejected immediately without question. Short of asking for a review, coming onto the field and getting in a umpire’s face should end.

  4. granadafan - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    It’s no different than a football player picking up a questionable ball or continuing running after maybe going down to the endzone. Play to the whistle. There are times when it may not seem quite fair upon replay, but overall the game will be better for replay. You can’t stop progress based on a couple minor “what ifs”.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:56 PM

      There is no whistle in baseball, and that’s not a flippant response, but an serious difference between the sports. What exactly is the equivalent in baseball that you should “play to”?

      • someguyinva - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:01 PM

        Play till the umpire calls time out?

      • ezthinking - Aug 21, 2013 at 5:21 PM

        The “out” call obviously.

    • jdillydawg - Aug 21, 2013 at 3:43 PM

      Instant replay is not progressive. It does nothing to improve what was otherwise a terrific game. People are so in to things being “fair” all the time, they forget life isn’t fair. Calls are blown, bad luck happens, bad things happen to good people and so on.

      Instant replay doesn’t erase any of this. It just creates a new set of headaches. It won’t make anything more fair in the end. I guarantee it.

      • granadafan - Aug 21, 2013 at 4:20 PM

        jdilly, in what way will replay not make the game more fair? Specifically what? Being able to determine whether a ball was a homerun or not makes a huge difference. Ask Armando Galarraga if replay would have created your “headaches”. There may be some issues with replay, but the positive impacts are there and obvious especially since replay will be limited and not for every single dispute.

      • jdillydawg - Aug 21, 2013 at 4:45 PM

        See my comment below about Galarraga. He’s exactly the reason WHY instant replay shouldn’t be instituted.

        There will be instances in instant replay when a call may be reversed that has an adverse affect on the exact team it is supposed to help. The example above, for instance. A runner deemed safe at second (originally called out) but requires the scoring run to return to third. Gee, thanks instant replay. Big help.

        It’s a crutch. Nothing more. And an unnecessary one.

      • grumpyoleman - Aug 22, 2013 at 9:08 AM

        I can see it now. Right after we get the robot umpires in place in a few years we can stand around the water cooler and talk about what a great call R2D2 made on the play last night. Boy won’t that be fun.

  5. skids003 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    It appears as if they have approached this like the Affordable Health Care law. Let’s get it in place, then fix all the messes they go along with it.

  6. grumpyoleman - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    So much for the quick two minute replay. Leave the damn game alone.

  7. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    None of these “unintended consequences” is anywhere near the level of unfairness of a blown call. In the example cited, what is more infuriating for the offense: having the lead runner placed at third by the umpire after replay corrected the call, or having the inning end with a blown call?

    It would also be bad strategy to assume “continuation.” Say the fielder at second bobbles the ball and misses his chance at the DP at first, but sees the lead runner “continuing” from third to home. There might be a few runners who could make it, but 99.9% would be dead ducks there.

    All of this is fairly academic. Of course there will end up being some ways to game the system a bit, but none of those are worse than blown calls.

    • jdillydawg - Aug 21, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      The blown call should stand. Human error is a part of the game. Remember Gallaraga? The lessons learned from that and the sportsmanship exhibited over that blown call is a lesson I can teach kids for eternity. With instant replay, the lesson becomes “Hey, everything’s fair. If someone does you wrong, we can fix it.” Life doesn’t work like that, and nor should sports.

      Gallaraga will be remembered for pitching a perfect game that is not in the record books because an ump blew the call. He won’t get less money in his next contract negotiation, people won’t think less of him, the books will simply reflect the story of what happens in baseball – and happens in life.

      I suppose another unintended consequence of instant replay is the loss of some good life lessons.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 22, 2013 at 10:31 AM

        How about teaching your kids to do the best job they possibly can? If MLB does not use replay, they are not doing the best job they possibly can.

        Unfortunately, I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities to show how unfair life can be. Isn’t also good to show your kids that justice can occasionally prevail?

      • jdillydawg - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:58 PM

        I believe the umps don’t go out there trying to make bad calls. They do the best they can do. Instant replay pretty much says, “You aren’t necessary.” Where’s the value in that?

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 2, 2013 at 9:28 AM

        A carpenter could drive nails without a hammer, but I don’t think the hammer makes him less of a carpenter. If the tools are available to help people do their job better, those people should be given those tools.

      • jdillydawg - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM

        A valid argument, but I don’t believe instant replay helps an umpire do his job better. It may make him obsolete, but it doesn’t make him a better umpire. I’d rather hire the carpenter that can eyeball a situation, figure out a problem and then put something together in a reasonable amount of time than hire the guy with all the fancy equipment who can’t think critically or put together a better product.

        If people like instant replay so much, why do we have umpires? All we really need is someone who can make a decision based upon what they see on a screen. And we’ve even seen them screw those calls up too. Hey, if instant replay guaranteed getting the call right, I might be more inclined to be open to it. But it doesn’t.

        Given that, the human aspect of missed calls how it affects a game and a ballplayer are what make this game great.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 2, 2013 at 12:02 PM

        I simply do not agree that blown calls add value. It is one thing to say that replay has implementation issues, but something else entirely to say that a blown call is a good result.

        There are numerous options for making replay unobtrusive (thought the proposed “challenge flag” plan is absolutely not one of those). Umpires are still relevant: how many calls a game actually call out for replay…2-5, maybe? The rest of the calls are made by umpires with little controversy. However, when there is a very close play, I can see that play 5 times in slow motion within 10 seconds at home, I know if they got the call right or wrong. Why not give the umpire as much information as the casual fan? They are the professionals here.

      • jdillydawg - Oct 2, 2013 at 5:57 PM

        While I agree there may be numerous options for making replay unobtrusive, I don’t believe MLB will figure out a way to implement any of the. The NFL has done a poor job of it and they’ve had time to make adjustments.

        My question is this: why do networks have a color commentator on NFL games whose sole job it is to determine whether or not the instant replay official got the call right? If instant replay is so unquestionably perfect, how could there possibly be more than one interpretation of the call?

        While I can see all the arguments in favor of it, there is no way that I will ever agree that instant replay actually adds value to a game. All it does is add time, which often isn’t even focused on the game.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 2, 2013 at 8:29 PM

        Instant replay won’t be perfect, but it comes much closer than the naked eye can in many. many cases.

        If they keep the managers from storming the field, and cut down on the little umpire conferences, replay could actually speed things up. Again, the challenge system is probably the worst possible implementation of this, as it almost REQUIRES all of the challenges to be used for pure gamesmanship. I personally like the “eye in the sky” version. Give the crew chief a cell phone, let him call MLB and get the call back from headquarters. It should take about 15-20 seconds.

        But nobody is asking me…

  8. critter69 - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:16 PM

    Which MLB teams think that a double play is an automatic call? That seems to be the ASSumption that is being discussed.

    Any manager who does NOT train his/her (her hopefully in the near future) players to continue the play is not deserving to be a manager at any level.

    Besides, what is the ruling now, if the second base umpire blows a call, and one or more of the other umpires ‘corrects’ it (and they correct it after the play is ‘over’ now, don’t they?)?

    • ezthinking - Aug 21, 2013 at 5:23 PM

      Call of the third out stops the play/inning.

  9. misterj167 - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Never mind the runner continuing on, how about base runners feeling more inclined to go after the infielder knowing he has to stay that close to the bag? There’s enough injuries in the game already, why add to it? And whether the player was on the bag or not is just as much a judgement call as is the strike zone, which is explicitly laid out in the rule books. Why wouldn’t the challenges apply there as well? Or on check swings? Because there have been lots of games where that has been a major factor, whether it’s on a single important pitch or throughout the course of a game (coughEric Greggcough)

    Never mind unintended consequences, this could be a disaster. I don’t have an issue with the way it’s being done now except that they should make the tech a little better for the umpires in order to speed up the process (no reason they can’t have a replay ump). Everyone wants the game called correctly and there’s certainly a place for replays but I think challenges are the wrong way to go about it.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 22, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      Ball/strike calls have been explicitly excluded from challenges.

      • misterj167 - Aug 22, 2013 at 1:18 PM

        And umpires have always been given leeway to call the neighborhood play to ensure the safety of the players. As some people here have said, the rule is the rule and must be followed at all times.

        However you want to deal with replays, challenges are going to cause more problems than they solve.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        The current “leeway” system basically breaks two rules to achieve the same effect of enforcing those same two rules. If they eliminate the “neighborhood” play there will be an objective standard in place for safe/out calls, i.e., did the fielder touch the bag. If the umpires simultaneously enforce rules against the base runner interfering with the fielder, the health and well being of the fielder will still be protected. In fact, the fielder will probably be more protected than under the current system, as the runner will be obliged to avoid contact as opposed to the fielder bearing the obligation to scamper out of the way, or else…

  10. chunkala - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    Not really worried about the catcher since he’s wearing all that equipment and the runner isn’t. Besides he shouldn’t be blocking the plate without the ball anyway.

  11. crackersnap - Aug 21, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    Simple solution. Challenges are not allowed for the “neighborhood play”.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 22, 2013 at 10:59 AM

      That would be a much bigger rule change, in that it would explicitly state that a fielder does not need to touch the bag to secure the out. That could have far larger implications to the way the game is played than replay itself.

      If the runner going from first to second is out, why should he be allowed to obstruct the fielder? I believe this is also banned by the rule book. Enforce the need to step on the bag and enforce the runner’s obligation to avoid interfering with the play.

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