Last week, when Major League Baseball announced that it had unanimously approved “expanded instant replay” for the 2014 season, I secretly rejoiced.

In the past, MLB had been slow to accept the idea of expanding instant replay beyond that of home runs and in fact, has been notoriously slow to change any of its rules (only 9 since World War 2).

Finally, I thought, the sport had taken a monumental step forward into the modern era.

But, as fast as I could celebrate, my bubble burst.

While the official MLB Press Release indicated that, among other changes, about 90% of all plays will now be reviewable and each team will now have the ability to challenge plays, the amount of challenges allotted to each team will severely be limited.

Specifically, both managers will now start each game with 1 challenge. If they use this challenge and it is upheld, they will retain that 1st challenge and be given another.  But, no manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.

Further, if a manager wins his appeal on a challenge, he retains the challenge.  However, the challenge from the first six innings does not carry over. And, if their 1st challenge is not upheld, they lose it and are basically S.O.L for the rest of the game.

Also, if a manager incorrectly challenges a play in the first six innings, umpires would not have the authority to review a call involving his team until the beginning of the seventh inning.  At that time, the crew chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call at his discretion, but not be obligated to do so by the manager.

So, what’s the point of limiting challenges like this?  Is MLB interested in getting all plays right, or what?

Not necessarily.

Former Manager Tony La Russa and Instant Replay Committee member said at the press conference on January 16: “We’re really going after the dramatic miss.  Not all misses.  I mean, this is a game of mistakes.”

So, is La Russa saying that MLB is only interested in getting really big plays right that could change the outcome of a game?  Isn’t that going to be hard to judge by Managers who are essentially limited to 1 correct challenge?  And, what if that Manager decides to let a bad play call go early in the game to save their challenge for later?

Hmm, I smell even more controversy brewing with this harsh policy of limiting challenges.  I see that it will likely cause even more confusion & anger directed towards the umpires and Major League Baseball.

For instance, what if a team very close to making it into the wild card race gets a bad call in the 8th inning of their last game, one in which the crew chief refuses to review for some reason & the manager has no more challenges to use?  And, in the end, that bad call costs the team their post season. We’re back to square one again with the possibility of more anger & resentment that could have been avoided with better policy making.

I wonder, then, why this painful baby step towards what should be more challenges allotted to each team?

Does MLB care as much about fairness as it does about preserving the integrity of the game?

Take the statement made by Joe Torre, another member of Commissioner Bud Selig’s Instant Replay Committee on Jan 16.  He said, “the idea of limiting challenges is really based upon the rhythm of the game”.

Rhythm over fairness?

Ok, certainly, it isn’t hard to see where MLB is coming from.  By stopping & starting the game to constantly review calls, it may have an effect on the subtle intangibles unique to the sport like tension built between pitchers and hitters, baserunning, and the like.

And, by adding unlimited challenges, or more than 1 or 2, it could add more time onto the end of the game, the average which is currently running about 3 hours.  In this era of shortened attention spans and jam-packed schedules, that could hurt attendance.  After all, MLB is a sport without a time clock.

But, how long does it really take to review a play?

Quicker than before, especially since MLB will also be adding technology and changing the way plays are to be challenged.

Previously, on field officials would leave the field to look at a replay and return with a decision made by the crew chief after discussion with the other officials.  Now, all reviews will be made & determined by MLB officials located at a “Command Center” in NY.

So, without the crew chief having to leave the field and spend time to discuss amongst the other officials about plays to be overturned and its ramifications, instant replay reviews should be fast.  In fact, it is predicted that with the new system, future replays will take “a minute [and] 15 [seconds]”, as compared to last year’s average of three minutes and four seconds.

And, certainly, a few minutes here and there taken to get calls right for fairness of both teams isn’t liability enough to “disturb the rhythm of the game”, is it?

Further, MLB seems to want to shift the onus & liability to its Managers for any blown calls with this new system.  “We told our managers at the winter meetings, ‘You have tough decisions in the game,’ ” said La Russa, “That’s what they pay you for. If those bother you, you’re doing the wrong job . . . And that’s what this is. It’s a challenge for a game-changing play that goes against you.”

Why put the onus on managers this way, when they could simply have more challenges (and chances) to get all calls right?

Is this also just a way for MLB to help get umpires off the hook?  The statement by Braves President and head of the Instant Replay Committee, John Schuerholz, is telling, “You should also know that the umpires are very, very receptive to this. They have spent enough time being abused or being the butt of bad comments about what’s happened or what’s been viewed on replays. And with the advanced technology that we have on replays, they understand that it can be a valuable tool for them. And we intend to use it as that.”

Yeah, it doesn’t hurt that Managers could now be the ones put in the spotlight regarding a blown call, specifically about why they didn’t use their 1 or 2 challenges wisely, instead of on the umpire who made the bad call to begin with…

In the end, do I think there should be a limit on reviewable plays?  Sure.  If we stopped to review every play of the game, it could get out of control.  But, why limit the challenges?  It just complicates matters and shifts liability.

The future of expanded instant replay will probably be as Joe Torre almost predicted, “We’re going to start this way, and if something has to be adjusted, we’ll certainly be aware of that. Like anything else, if we think something can make it better, we’re certainly going to go in that direction.”

I have a feeling that is going to be the case.


Source : MLB Press Release on Instant Replay

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