As hinted in the Bullets this morning, MLB’s ownership groups were today presented with a massively expanded instant replay program, which was widely accepted by the group. Although the plan will not be formally adopted until November, Commissioner Bud Selig called today “historic,” per USA Today, suggesting that he sees the new replay system as a fait accompli.
Selig is right that, when the changes kick in, the game will be changed by all historic standards. Included in the new replay program (per USA Today – though I think some of the finer details are still being worked out, so this isn’t quite yet gospel):
- Every play outside of balls and strikes will be subject to review.
- Managers will be able to initiate a review by “challenging” a play. They will have three challenges per game – one for the first six innings, and then two for the rest of the game.
- If a manager’s challenge is successful, he doesn’t lose that challenge.
- Even if all challenges are exhausted, the umpiring crew can, on its own, initiate the review of a home run call.
- A centralized crew in New York will conduct all reviews and make the final decision.
For me, I’m envisioning lengthened games, particularly those involving managers who make certain to use up all of their challenges every single game (maybe even using them to distract an opposing pitcher or give a little more time for a reliever to warm up). If the manager is correct on a couple, that could be five reviews in a single game from one team. And what’s to stop that manager from coming out to at least argue subsequent calls he doesn’t like?
I like the idea of getting calls right, but I really don’t like “challenge” systems. Just have a centralized hub, monitoring all games, and they buzz the local umpiring crew if they feel a certain call needs to be reviewed further. The game is temporarily paused, the centralized hub conducts the review, and informs the crew of the decision. In theory, it should happen only a handful of times per game, and shouldn’t take much time for each review. Once you inject a layer of partiality – the managers – you’re going to have gamesmanship. Haven’t we seen that already in the NFL? I find the Big Ten’s automatic review system to be far, far preferable.
As I argued to Sahadev on this week’s episode of the podcast, I fear that baseball games are already growing too long to attract/keep the casual fans the sport needs to thrive. This could exacerbate the problem.