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2014 Preview: The new replay rule is here

Mar 25, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT

If Major League Baseball got this right, we may never see a game turn on a blown call again. At least an important game. When everyone is paying attention. And if there weren’t more egregiously blown calls earlier in the game.

Expanded replay is a new fact of life for the 2014 season and that little caveat above reflects the fact that, while baseball could have instituted a system in which every close play is examined, it chose to start more conservatively. It has put the onus on managers — not umpires — to make sure controversial plays are reviewed, and it has given managers a somewhat limited ability to initiate such reviews. The basics:

    • Managers will start each game with one replay challenge to use;
    • If a manager uses a challenge and any portion of a challenged play is overturned, then the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game.  Under no circumstances may a manager challenge more than two plays in a game.
    • If the managers challengers are used up — and if it’s after the seventh inning — the umpires may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call.  Home run and other boundary calls will always be reviewable, however.

As for the procedure: there will be a headset near home plate in all 30 parks.  From there, the Crew Chief will be connected to the Replay Command Center at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York.  There, major league Umpires will be staffed as replay officials, viewing the video feeds. Replay officials will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call on a “clear and convincing evidence” standard. The hope is that the process will only take a minute or two. In spring training thus far, most reviews have been short and relatively seamless.

The obvious goal of the limited challenge system is to keep the delays to a minimum and to keep obsessive managers from challenging every single potential missed call. Inherent in this — but not too often said lest baseball officials be seen as minimizing the impact of blown calls — is that not too many games actually turn on umpire mistakes. Oh, they do in the aggregate in the form of inconsistent strike zones, but balls and strikes were never going to be on the table here. But they don’t turn on an egregiously bad out/safe call at first base or a blatant misapplication of the rules too terribly often. We certainly remember those, and a big part of the replay system is to make sure that those memorable missed calls no longer affect outcomes and, at the same time, don’t stick in people’s memories and reflect poorly on Major League Baseball.

But whatever the motivation and whatever the actual impact on games and outcomes, it’s a pretty big and pretty welcome step for Major League Baseball to turn to technology. The league has always taken a conservative approach to innovation, especially technological innovation, and while baseball wading into replay is pretty late compared to the other sports leagues, it’s downright visionary by its own historical standards.

  1. darthicarus - Mar 25, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    I can’t wait for the first regular season game to use this. The challenge will probably take 2-4 minutes total and the first media blitz against it will state how the game dragged on & this is terrible for the game of baseball. Meanwhile the last 2 minutes of a college basketball game (NBA might be the same but I stopped watching that years ago) takes roughly 45 minutes thanks to fouls/timeouts/etc.

    • renaado - Mar 25, 2014 at 9:16 AM


    • moogro - Mar 25, 2014 at 3:38 PM

      The replays are demonstrably getting faster and faster. The only thing dragging them out is managers still arguing even during and after the replay. They need to nip that in the bud.

  2. chacochicken - Mar 25, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    I’ve been watching a lot of ST games and the announcers are probably 60-40 against replay or at t least highly skeptical of the speed and utility of replay. Mostly they think it is just going to take too long assuming that it will be 5+ minutes for the average replay challenge. I’ve heard one announcer say that replay could cause umpires to be less concerned with getting a call right because replay will fix it if he is wrong. On the other hand a former player-now announcer said that this will put so much pressure “constantly second guessing” the umps and they might end up with more bad calls.
    Fortunately, no one, at least that I’ve heard, has declared this to be a catastrophic doom for baseball. The amazing thing is they seem to find a way to bring it up every game regardless of whether it is a replay game or otherwise.

  3. nothanksimdriving123 - Mar 25, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    Dear MLB,
    Can we perhaps make this new rule retroactive to 2010?
    Armando Galarraga

  4. moogro - Mar 25, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    The home plate collision rule may be slow to come around. That preseason game where Carlos Ruiz blocked the plate without having the ball yet (I forget the rest of the details) stopping the runner in his tracks with his legs and yet the umpire called the runner out was exactly what should not have happened. But it was a good day for MLB network. Dave Valle defended the play, Bill Ripken explained why that was exactly wrong to his face with Vasgersian nodding along, then Ripken later included it in a Diamond Demo. Fortunately, there were three other plays at the plate that day, and Ripken and others later going out of their way to demonstrate how the catchers did it right by allowing the lane and still applying the tag.

  5. zdravit - Mar 25, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    This is my protest sign. The purity of the game is at stake.

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