Expanded replay train is out of the station
More reviews are coming, but MLB should not rush into decision-making process
According to a recent report, Major League Baseball is no longer merely considering expanding replay for fair/foul calls and those involving possible trapped balls, but also plays at the plate and on the bases.
MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre confirmed as much when he told reporters Tuesday in Glendale, Ariz., "We're going to increase replay next year. We just don't know how we're going to go about it yet."
We're in the final days.
OK, I'm biased here, because when it comes to baseball, I'm the world's biggest traditionalist. Except for flannel uniforms and, well … I can't think of anything else, I'm for keeping the game about the way it was after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
No designated hitter rule. That's enough right there, but I'll continue: grass fields only, ballparks without roofs, only sunshine at Wrigley Field, pitchers who deliver pitches sometime during this century, hitters who rarely strike out over 100 times per season.
Instant replay? Ugh. It's already here regarding home run calls, and to be honest, I haven't had a problem with that one. The same goes for instant replay to determine fair/foul and trap/catch calls. That was approved in baseball's latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The problem is, expanding instant replay beyond those three situations would remove so much from the game -- beginning and ending with the charming tradition of umpires sometimes getting it wrong after overwhelmingly getting it right.
Since teams used to travel only by train around the Major Leagues, I'll continue with a railroad analogy. The train has left the station regarding the expanded use of instant replay in baseball, and that engine is charging downhill. So the rest of us have two choices: We can try to stand in front of the train as we get flattened worse than a brushback pitch to the ear, or we can sigh while hopping on board.
I'll ride, but I'll deliver some thoughts along the way.
According to Torre, baseball officials will travel to the World Baseball Classic games in Miami this month and also to various Spring Training sites to study how those officials would implement an expanded replay system in the Major Leagues.
That's fine. But baseball should have those officials continue their study beyond the next few weeks.
Nothing against the Classic or Spring Training, but games that count toward winning divisions, pennants and World Series championships are different. Players operate at a heightened level during the regular season, and their intensity jumps even more in the postseason.
So baseball officials need to study the effects of expanded instant replay against the that backdrop.
In addition, by baseball officials pushing their study past Opening Day and through late October, they would see the plusses and the minuses of expanded instant replay for every ballpark, especially since each would be affected by the move in unique ways.
Now to the tricky part, which is the specifics of what baseball officials must decide with their study. First, according to an ESPN.com story, baseball wants to determine whether to copy the NFL's challenge-flag silliness. In that league, each team gets two challenges per game, and if a challenge fails, that team losses a timeout.
Baseball officials shouldn't consider that one, and not just because timeouts are unlimited in their game.
The challenge-flag system is even too clumsy for the NFL. There often is the comical sight of a coach trying to yank the flag from his pocket, and that is regularly accompanied by the sight of that coach running frantically onto the field to get the referee's attention.
If baseball goes the expanded replay route, it can make life smoother for everybody by just having a designated replay person to say a call should be reviewed.
Which brings us to several questions: Where would that designated replay person be stationed at the ballpark? Who ultimately would review the replay? And where would the latter be stationed?
Those answers are simple. The designated replay person would sit in the press-box area. A group of maybe three people would serve as judge and jury for every replay around the Major Leagues. And the latter would operate from a central location.
Which actually brings us to more questions: What plays beyond the current ones would be eligible for review? And how would you keep games from lasting for hours, days, weeks?
Torre said balls and strikes aren't in the mix.
Good. That said, the expanded use of instant replay would apply to nearly everything else in baseball. Bad.
Sorry, but I forgot I'm still on that train, which means I'll accept the fact that baseball officials eventually will decide to use instant replay for safe/out calls. I'll offer a humble suggestion, though: They should restrict those reviews to home plate.
This isn't to say such calls are more important than those on the bases. It is to say this would save time.
No matter how much supporters of instant replay say otherwise, any expansion of their system will extend the length of games -- and to a noticeable degree. You'll have the mechanics of it all, and you'll have the human element that won't just vanish.
Managers still will be managers.
I mean, regardless of the final decision of replay officials, you just know more than a few managers will continue that baseball tradition of going nose-to-nose with the closest umpire.
Said Torre, adding jokingly to reporters, "You still have to have something to yell about.''
Players won't stop yelling, either.
I got an idea. Why not leave things alone?
But I'm still on that train.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.