Instant Replay In The Mlb

             Technology is one of the sport industry’s biggest sources of revenue, and at the same time is a rapidly growing challenge for the industry.  It is ever changing, unlike the rules of the game, which compared to other major sports are stagnant, always hiding behind traditionalism.  Sports are becoming increasingly dependent on technology because television is the major source of revenue. But where is the limit?  The need for comprehensive instant replay in baseball is patently obvious.  Perfect games have been ruined by the officials not noticing the player beating out the throw to first or sliding into home while just avoiding the graze of the catcher’s glove.  How perfect can the umpires be?  Does baseball demand perfection?  Are close calls just part of the game? Should the calls be “under control” of the officiating crew?

             For years the MLB has discussed the possibility of instant replay. The primary goal of instant replay is to get the calls on the field correct.  John Schuerholz, the Atlanta Braves President, announced on August 15 2013 that beginning in 2014 the MLB will adapt instant replay and manager challenges.  Managers will be allowed three challenges per game, only one allowed for the first six innings and two challenges beginning in the 7th inning and lasting until the end of the game.  If a manager’s challenge is successful, meaning the umpire called the play wrongly, the manager will not be charged with a review.  If a manger exhausts his three challenges, the umpire crew can still make a review of their own (USA Today).  The current instant replay system, implemented on August 28, 2008, reviews boundary home run calls to determine whether the ball is fair or foul, whether the ball left the playing field and whether the ball was subject to spectator interference.  These rules will continue to be in effect in the new instant replay system.  The new rules will not be finalized until the owners’ meetings in November where it “must be approved by all 30 MLB teams, the players’ union and the umpires’ union. A 75 percent vote by the owners is needed to approve the system, as well as a thumbs up from both unions,” (Yahoo! Sports).  

            The home plate umpire and the crew chief will go to a communications center located on the field near the backstop and pick up a phone that will have a direct, secure line to MLBAM, Major League Baseball Advanced Media, where replay officials will monitor the game. With today’s technology, the time it takes to review the play will take an average of one minute and fifteen seconds.  The league wanted to make sure that adding instant replay would not make the game last too much longer, since game already takes two and a half to three hours.  The replay officials in the command center, who are umpires, will say whether the umpires were correct, as they will have reviewed the play in slow motion from a variety of angles only available to them (John Schueholz,  Plans need to be finalized in talks between the players’ union and the umpires’ union.  The idea is to have instant replay monitor fair/foul and trap/catch calls, in addition to their main goal: improve calls made at home plate and on the bases.  MLB replay will cover every play except balls and strikes; umpires will remain in complete control of those calls.

On June 2nd, 2010, the Detroit Tigers played the Cleveland Indians in what is known as the “Imperfect Game.”  As Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga was pitching his “near-perfect game,” the first-base umpire, Jim Joyce, incorrectly ruled that batter Jason Donald managed to beat out the throw to first on a ground ball (NY Daily News).  It would be one thing if this was in the third inning, but unfortunately for baseball, there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  Donald was clearly out, and Joyce cost Galarraga a place in no-hitter history.  Had there been instant replay and manager challenges, Joyce’s miscall would have been overturned.  At that moment the nation decided that “America’s pastime” is too traditional and preserved and that changes need to be made.

            The “neighborhood rule” will not be subject to review for instant replay, they remain umpire judgment calls (Deadspin).  According to CBS Sports, umpires need to be stricter on the “neighborhood rule.”  Middle infielders are given wide leeway when it comes to touching second base on a double play to avoid being intentionally taken out by the base runner.  However, the “neighborhood” zone around second base seems to be creeping farther away.  In the 2013 ALDS Game 4, Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew was credited with a put-out at second assisted by a throw by second baseman Dustin Pedroia, even though Drew was nowhere near the bag (CBS Sports, Eye on Baseball).  To those watching the game, including the Red Sox fans, it was obvious that the call was blatantly ridiculous, and that base runner Austin Jackson was clearly safe.  When MLB reviews instant replay, they should look at the extent of how far the fielder covering second base can be before the play becomes safe rather than a neighborhood play. 

Instant replay will bring joy to a huge fan base and peace of mind to MLB players, but for some small market teams it can be a burden.  The cost of technology is an issue.  “Every MLB team must pay for the equipment, including replay-monitoring station and cameras, which at a minimum will cost a million dollars” (Sport Business Journal).  “Do owners want to cough up the money [for instant replay technology], when MLB studies reveal there’s an average of [only] three missed calls a night?” (USA Today).  Most observers are in agreement that owners will say yes to instant replay despite the cost.  Those three missed calls could be the difference between a win and a loss.  After all, it’s the 21st century and the MLB needs to take on technology to advance the game.

            There are still controversies over instant replay, even among the players.  “There will no longer be any huge arguments between umpires and managers.  [Umpire’s calls] are a grand, traditional part of the game” (Business Insider).  Washington Nationals shortstop, Ian Desmond, tweeted the day of the instant replay announcement, “If you think there is a problem with brakes, do you make the airbags stronger or do you get the brakes fixed?”  Then followed with another tweet: “To make it clear, I love the game the way it is right now. If people want a ‘perfect’ game, it's never going to happen in this sport.”  Those who disagree with the upcoming manager challenge rule say there will still be flaws with this system.  On a Mike and Mike radio talk show, they discussed the flaw: if there are only three challenges and a manager uses all of them, then there is a big game-changing play that is called wrong, the call is completely out of your control. As opposed to Ian Desmond, other players are in favor of the new system.  “‘I feel like we need it,’ the Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer told USA TODAY Sports. ‘This is (an $8) billion industry. And there are millions and millions of dollars riding on these games and the outcome of individual plays. When we have the technology available to get the calls correct, I feel we should take advantage of it’” (USA Today).

            Nothing is final until November, because the instant replay rules still need the approval by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and the umpires' union. “The umpires’ union wants assurance that no jobs are phased out and is asking for an extra umpiring crew to be at the command post each day. If everything is cleared, the owners will vote on it November 13th-14th at their next quarterly meetings” (USA Today).  “MLB would put together a central office in New York for reviews, which would have access to all the cameras and be manned with experienced umpires. Final rulings would come from New York, not the crew chief on site,” says Schuerholz, the Atlanta Braves President.  “You can still argue balls and strikes, and replay challenges or not, you can still scream at missed calls for the heck of it. We're not going to take arguments out of the game,'' says Tony La Russa, former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. 

On the positive side of instant replay, “We'll finally have a statistic for managers, getting the ability to grade them on their replay success rate and total number of challenges initiated” (Sporting News).  In football, when a play is challenged and the refs review it to confirm or change the call, fans have a peace of mind afterwards; they usually get over whether they approve the call or not because there was a review as proof.  In baseball, fans are so hung up on bad judgment calls by umpires like the Galarraga “Imperfect game” or when 12-year-old fan, Jeffrey Maier, grabbed Derek Jeter’s bomb before it would fall into right-fielder, Tony Tarasco’s glove.  The play was called a homerun, not fan interference, and was a crucial run in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS (NY Daily News).  The victory helped lead the Yankees to the World Series title.  Instant Replay will prevent fan interference, miscalls for tag plays at the plate and throws beat out the runner at each base.  The MLB has the opportunity to harness instant replay to change the game for the better.
            The major challenges to adding instant replay in the MLB are time concerns and controversies between judgment calls and fair calls.  A nine-inning baseball game already lasts between two and half to three hours, extra innings not included. If the game were to be paused while the umpire checks the challenged call, can fans and the audience at home remain patient?  MLB assures fans that the addition of instant replay will not alter the time too much.  As far as calls go, every call in baseball is a judgment call – neighborhood plays, balls and strikes, plays at the plate, trapped balls, fan interference, and whether or not fielders lost control of the ball during a transfer.  If instant replay covers half these problems, what about the other half?  Half the game will be fair and confirmed by technology, while the other half is an opinion-based judgment call.  “So even if MLB does indeed move forward with its modest expansion plans, it will be setting itself up for controversial replays.  There won't always be a definitive call to make, and that's a problem” (Bleacher Report).  It may be a problem for purists, but through all this instant replay controversy we can be sure of one thing: baseball will make a lot more money.    



Sport Business Journal
New York Daily News
Yahoo! Sports


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