MLB gets it right with expanded use of replay
Owner's decision Thursday will have huge impact on game for years to come
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Someday, we'll look back and fully grasp how important Thursday was for Major League Baseball. That'll take awhile, because we're probably going to have to see the expanded use of instant replay at work over a long period of time to fully understand its impact.
But the game changed on Thursday, changed in a very fundamental way, changed for the better.
"Look, we have the greatest game in the world, but we have to continue to make adjustments. This is quite historic," Commissioner Bud Selig said after baseball's owners agreed to fund expanded use of instant replay for the 2014 season.
And so it goes. Under this Commissioner, baseball has been transformed through its use of technology -- and respecting the past while not being trapped by it. Selig took a long time to come around to the idea of more instant replay. He wanted a system that worked only if it didn't have the interminable delays of NFL and college football games.
Baseball believes it has found a balance, one in which the calls will be reviewed without delaying games. In fact, this form of instant replay could end up shortening games.
Let's just say that if a manager jawing at an umpire for 10 minutes has been your favorite part of a baseball game, you're not going to be happy. When a manager comes out of the dugout now, it probably will be to say something like, "I challenge that one."
If things work as smoothly as they have in the Arizona Fall League this month, someone in MLB Advanced Media's New York offices will review the play and relay the correct call back to the umpire and manager on the field.
In some cases, it took less than a minute to verify the call. In the end, baseball's goal in all of this is simple: to make sure players and managers decide the games.
Beginning in 2014, when you leave the ballpark, you'll be able to feel confident that the close play at first base in the sixth inning didn't cost your team a game. Instead of deciding just home runs, instant replay will now cover a variety of plays -- tag plays on the bases, fair or foul balls down the lines, trap plays in the outfield.
Almost everything except balls and strikes will be open to review. Each manager will have no more than two challenges, with the exact number still to be worked out in negotiations between Rob Manfred, baseball's chief operating officer, and the unions representing the players and umpires. If the call is upheld, the manager loses a challenge.
Some details are unclear. What if a player or manager does something to delay a game while replay is being checked? Manfred said that if a manager argues a call he can't then ask for a replay.
In the beginning, replay had one prominent opponent.
"Somebody was kidding me the other day about how I'd really been against [replay]," Selig said. "I said my father told me that life was nothing but a series of adjustments. So I just made an adjustment."
"Just watching things and talking to people and finding out what we could do and how we could do it, and did it make sense and what was the logic," he said. "The more I become convinced, the more I talked to them. I said to myself, 'Why would I say no to this?' The logic was overwhelming."
There'll obviously be a learning curve as managers figure out when to challenge a call. Likewise, the entire process will evolve as technology continues to improve and give the game other options.
"It is likely the system will see some continuing evolution until we get to a point of stability," Manfred said.
But the bottom line won't change. It's to use the available technology to make the game better. No manager wants to leave a ballpark feeling that an umpire cost him the game.
Every last manager will tell you that the umpires are incredibly good at their jobs and that they're correct an overwhelming amount of the time. But Thursday was about doing the right thing, the inevitable thing, about making sure that more of the close calls end up being the correct ones.
That's all anyone has ever wanted out of this thing. That's all that really matters.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.