(Image: Pat Sullivan/AP)
When it was announced last week that MLB would expand instant replay, Commissioner Bud Selig said, "I couldn't help but sense in the room the acceptance and excitement. People understood they were sitting in on something that was historic." It would be easy for a jaded fan to assume that Selig was being hyperbolic. After all, the only replay baseball has allowed in the last five years has been on close home runs, and the only previous proposals involved fair-foul calls and traps.
Maybe it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations (or that I’m an easy sell), but the new replay proposal sounds bloody terrific. The idea that MLB would someday have meaningful replay seemed fanciful less than one week ago. Now it feels like our long national nightmare is almost over. Surely, there must be negatives and unintended consequences I haven’t fully considered, but for now we can keep it on the positive.
Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt has long promoted the idea of a fifth umpire on each crew who would be responsible for reviewing questionable calls. That seemed like a reasonable idea, and since I read Haudricourt more than any other baseball writer, I never really gave the notion of manager’s challenges much thought. Now that it’s part of the official MLB proposal – one challenge in the first six innings, two challenges from the seventh on – it seems so obvious we all should have thought of it. It works fine in the NFL, and it will be even better in baseball without managers having to throw those silly challenge flags.
The fact that not all plays will be reviewable is a potential can of worms, but the other major sports already place limits on reviewable plays, so it’s nothing sports fans aren’t used to. And it’s mostly reassuring that Braves president John Schuerholz, who was on the committee that put the replay proposal together, said, "Reviewable plays will cover 89 percent of those incorrect calls that were made in the past." If he’s putting on odd number like 89% on it, that might suggest they really worked out the details. (Hit-by-pitch was an example of a play that probably wouldn’t be reviewable.)
All instant replay would still be reviewed at MLB offices in New York, as disputed home run calls already are. I’m still not sure why they can’t do that locally, but it doesn’t seem to take that long when it happens. Schuerholz has said replay reviews take just over three minutes on average under the current system. On the few occasions Jonathan Lucroy had to catch Randy Wolf, the time Lucroy spent making repeated trips to the mound surely took more than three minutes.
In previous public comments about expanding replay, Selig and other MLB officials have said they don’t want to create too many delays or slow down the rhythm of the game. With a challenge system, it’s not hard to imagine managers stalling – i.e., having their pitcher step off or make multiple pickoff throws – until it becomes clear what a replay shows. But it’s worth keeping in mind baseball is a game where stalling – i.e., pitchers stepping off or making multiple pickoff throws – is already built into the rhythm of the game. Fans who want a game with a time limit wouldn’t be watching baseball in the first place.
During the Brewers/Reds game on Sunday (speaking of no rhythm), broadcaster and replay skeptic Bill Schroeder commented, “A lot of folks are for replay, but not in the manner they’ve suggested it.” Rather than pick apart the current proposal and focus on the things that aren’t magnificent, we might as well be grateful it’s so promising.