Advancements in technology have improved many things in baseball, from charting a pitcher’s repertoire using PITCHf/x to online subscription packages that allow us to break down odd deliveries. Technology has also brought us instant replay, which has allowed the game to have more correct calls and perhaps less arguments between managers and umpires. However, Brandon Magee believes there’s a problem when it comes to the delays of contemplating instant replay created by managers.
For the first 150 years of baseball, determining whether a runner was safe was a decision made by one man, the umpire. While managers could argue, these bang-bang plays were rarely argued against vociferously. After all, the umpire likely was in a better position than anyone else. However, with the rise of televised games and the inevitable replays, viewers can quickly determine if the call was correct. Unfortunately, even with the benefit of replay, slowed down to a crawl, many of these so-called bang-bang plays are unable to be adjudicated definitively.
Major League Baseball has made the correct decision to have instant replay available to umpires and for managers to be able to challenge calls. No one wants to see an obviously incorrect call have a material impact on a game. Umpires are human. Despite their years of training and their great instincts, the ball does not always end up going where they think it will. Their angle of the foul line may be skewed just enough that they miss the ball going foul. They may have been blinded by the light or just happened to blink at the wrong moment. These errors are inevitable and easily correctable by the use of instant replay.
While I was not in the room when the officials decided to open up the instant replay rules beyond home runs, I certainly believe that the aim of the decision was to fix the egregious errors; to prevent the Jeffrey Maier’s of the world from interfering with balls in the field of play, to ensure Chuck Knoblauch actually tagged Jose Offerman in the 1999 ALCS, to show Tim McClelland that Mike Napoli did tag both Posada and Cano in the 2009 ALCS, to keep Don Denkinger from receiving hate mail for missing a call at first base, to fix the obvious mistakes that sometimes happen.
Alas, the rules regarding replays were written too broadly. Specifically, the problem is with Section II-D-3 of the Major League Baseball Replay Review Regulations:
In the case of a play that results in a third-out call, a Manager must immediately run onto the field to notify an Umpire that the Club is contemplating challenging the play (and in all circumstances must be on the field in less than ten (10) seconds from the Umpire’s third-out call), and in such cases the Crew Chief shall hold the defensive players on the field. The Manager will have no more than thirty (30) seconds after entering the field to notify an Umpire that he is invoking a challenge. In the case of a play that results in a third-out call and is subject to review at the discretion of the Crew Chief, the Crew Chief must either immediately initiate a Replay Review or signal for an Umpire conference to discuss the play while holding the defensive players on the field. If a Manager who is out of challenges desires to request that the Crew Chief review the play at his discretion, the Manager must immediately run on the field to make such a request.
While the specific rule is intended for plays that result in a third out, it is also the only rule in the regulations that specify timing. Specifically, that the Manager has no more than 30 seconds to invoke a challenge. All other times mentioned in the regulations are of the much more ambiguous “before the start of the next play.”
However, what we see now on any bang-bang play is the manager coming out of the dugout to talk to an umpire as the bench coach is on the phone to see if there is a chance a replay challenge may be successful. The action is delayed seemingly interminably, only to see the manager return to the dugout without issuing a challenge. Two, three, four times a game, any close call goes through the same ritual. On rare occasions, the manager will even signal for the replay to commence. Thus, taking up even more time, often with no ultimate change.
While these plays are eligible for review, they were only eligible for those plays that were obviously missed. Replays were made to fix egregious, reversible errors. They were not meant to be invoked for the photo finishes of baseball.
These stall tactics prior to invoking a challenge run counter to MLB’s stated goal of speeding up games. Luckily, the solution is already a part of the rules, the umpires just need to enforce them. As stated above, the only occasion where time limits are specified is after a play resulting in the third out. Therefore, on any other play, when a manager steps out on the field to “contemplate” whether or not to utilize a replay, the umpire can simply invoke Rule II-F-2:
If an Umpire believes that a Manager, coach or player is intentionally delaying the start of the next play in order to provide his Club with additional time to invoke a challenge, the Umpire may require the Manager to immediately make a decision on the challenge, and issue a warning to the Manager. After issuing a warning, the Crew Chief shall have the discretion to rescind a Club’s challenge if the Club again intentionally delays the commencement of play. The Commissioner may impose off-field sanctions on Clubs that violate this provision.
Baseball’s use of instant replay is a valuable tool in getting the call right. Unfortunately, it is being manipulated by all managers looking to gain an extra out or an extra runner on calls that are not obviously incorrect. While I don’t expect that managers will willingly give up their “right” to “contemplate” a challenge, I do expect MLB to look into ways to stop these frivolous delays.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.