Monday, January 20, 2014

Freeze Frame! Splitting Hairs! Different Sets of Eyes!

Geez, if Big Brother wasn't watching us before, it certainly is with all of this instant replay business, eh? (rimshot) No, really. There's going to be a lot more reviewing from this point forward. Too bad Lou Piniella and Bobby Cox aren't around for this. It could've saved them a lot of ejections. In actuality, I don't think they'd have cared either way.

Last Thursday, a landmark ruling was made in American baseball. It was unanimously approved that the rules for instant replay be expanded in the league. On the agreement, Bud Selig--in his last official year as commish of MLB--was elated and relieved that they have been granted this ability. "Because they won't disturb the game as we know it. Yes, there will be some differences. But because of [MLB Advanced Media], because of our own technology, because of everything else, we've been able to do this." [1] While it is safe to say that the advances in technology had to be perfect in order for all of this to be possible, this day was a long time coming for baseball players, managers, and officials.

While there have been certain things that were reviewed and scrutinized before this era, there was no concrete rule on when to use an instant replay system. Just about every call was a "judgment call" from the umpiring crew, and it was their way or the highway. While many have admitted their faults, their mea culpas will certainly result in softened blows with thanks to this expansion.

Official instant replay in Major League Baseball made its debut during the 2008 season in the controversial Tropicana Field. You would think that it hit something awkward in there considering that park is rafters and low ceilings galore, but it was to dispute a home run call that hit the foul pole. (If you want to guess who hit that ball, it's the guy who isn't allowed to play this year.) After requests from players and coaches, a review was finally made and the call was decided. Since then, instant replays were utilized for home run calls only to the discretion of the umpiring crew and not team management. Also, this was not bound to the regular season. Instant replay made appearances during the playoffs and in the World Baseball Classic. Good job, MLB. Since the origin of the home run review, many key games were decided, especially when they involved walk-off homers.

Here we are, six years later, and the rules will finally be expanded.

Beginning this upcoming season, the rule expansion is as follows:

"...each manager will start a game with one challenge. If it is upheld, he retains his challenge but can never have more than two in a game. If the manager exhausts his challenges before the start of the seventh inning, he is out of luck, adding a new element of strategy to the game. Beginning in the top of the seventh, the crew chief is empowered to institute a review." [2]

It looks like they ripped a page out of the NFL's book, but with good intentions. Also, just about every disputable call can be reviewed through these "challenges" except for minor issues like obstruction. To name a few instances off the bat (no pun intended): tag/force plays, ground-rule doubles, fan interference, and timing plays can be reviewed. However, they will not be reviewed by the umpiring crew on-site. Instead, the angles will be sent to Toronto New York where MLB Headquarters is located. It is there that a different umpiring crew will review the play and send their decision. In the meantime, just as in football, reviews will be shown on the boards at the stadiums for the crowd to see and react toward. While these rules and regulations are fairly new and haven't officially been tested yet, there will be room for fine-tuning and improvement on these reviewing practices as the season moves forward.

I will be perfectly clear on my opinion of this: we're really nitpicking this to the bone, and since this is going to benefit every party in play, this is absolutely huge and necessary for baseball. The umpires are all for this. I guess I can't blame them. Considering that human error is under such scrutiny all down the board these days, any slip-up that can be checked upon can really save time and avoid unnecessary confrontations between manager/player and umpire at the plate. Could you imagine how this could have changed history if this was incorporated sixty-some-odd years ago? That home plate play in the 1955 World Series could have changed the outcome and ultimately changed a lot of other things as well. This is going to be a godsend for a lot of close calls that were accepted by teams and managers because the umpiring staff was the "final say," now and forever amen. What baffled me was that every voting side was compliant with the ruling, and that everyone agreed that a change was necessary for baseball to be as fair and as balanced in officiating as possible. They handled this transition incredibly well, considering that they started off small with just reviewing home run calls as opposed to throwing every single thing that can be reviewed into the mix. It was like a trial period, and now they're going from Pull-Ups to big boy underwear.

I never thought I would want to pat Bud Selig on the back, but I sort of want to and it makes me feel a little dirty. Don't ask me why--he's just made awkward decisions in the past that didn't always work. Then again, the introduction of the Wild Card wasn't a bad idea. I digress.

As expected, this will definitely change the game of baseball forever. In lieu of the addition of the ban of home plate collisions, this tool is really going to be efficient in judgment precision and the overall time it takes to negotiate what was right and what was not so right. On that note, Jayson Stark noted in his ESPN column that: "New rules governing home-plate collisions were not approved by owners, for now, however, because baseball still hasn't agreed with the players' union on the wording of them. However, MLB's COO, Rob Manfred, said enough progress has been made that 'we fully expect to make an agreement with the union on home-plate collisions.'" [3] History has been made, and while it seems like baseball is going to be splitting hairs a little more often than usual, it is all for the best. We've gotten things wrong 99 times out of 100. Let's make that 100th time count.


(Quotes 1 and 2 from this post were from an article written by Paul Hagen on The full article can be found here. Quote 3 is from an article written by Jayson Stark on The full article can be found here.)