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Kudos to MLB for Expanding Instant Replay

Major League Baseball announced last week that the 2014 season would see significant expansion of their instant replay rules. Managers would receive 1 “challenge,” much like an NFL coach’s challenge, in the first six innings, and then 2 in the final three. Umpires will consult with a crew in New York City, much like the NHL’s system of calling Toronto, and would relay the decision from New York to the playing field.

It marks a massive breakthrough in the debate that has swirled around baseball for years now–how much instant replay should be allowed in the game, and how should it be done if implemented?

At first, I sided with the traditionalists about instant replay. Umpires are human, humans make mistakes, and it’s all part of the game. Such a drastic change to the oldest U.S. major sport–America’s Pastime–just isn’t natural. How would the greats like Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, etc. feel about this?

Writer’s Note: Prior to writing this, I looked in my “All Posts” section on WordPress, and found a draft from two summers ago about how instant replay would be bad for baseball. Interesting how times change.

Over time, though, more and more games were decided by an umpire’s blown call, some more crucial than others. Take the Jerry Meals call that started the Pirates’ freefall a couple of years ago. The Atlanta runner, Julio Lugo, was CLEARLY out, which in the 2nd inning wouldn’t be a huge deal. However, this run won the game for the Braves. It was over–the blown call directly impacted the outcome of the game. This isn’t to say that Jerry Meals is directly responsible for the Pirates’ entire faceplant–the Pirates played terrible baseball down the stretch–but maybe the Pirates get a huge extra-inning win on the road and use it to build some momentum if the correct call is made.

Yes, games in the 20’s were also decided by incorrect calls. But if we have the technology to get these games as properly called as possible, especially when the game is on the line, then why shouldn’t we use it?

Critics point out that already-long games would take even longer. And while this is true, I would much rather attend a game that lasts 3:30 and is properly called than a 3:00 game that analysts talk about for weeks after a blown call that directly costs a team a game.

It also needs to be repeated that managers can’t challenge any and every call on the field. Managers also cannot challenge balls and strikes, which is the high majority of any player or manager’s beef with the umpires.

In reality, I really don’t see many challenges being used over the course of a game, if any at all. Watch a MLB game closely, and excluding balls and strikes, count how many plays would likely be challenged in a normal game.

– Fair/foul home runs and hits down the lines

– Outs at bases

– Trapped balls in the outfield

– Plays at the plate

Probably more, but that will be the high majority, and how often do we see arguments about these plays? For your favorite team, probably once every few games.

Just think, if this system were put in place from the beginning, these famous blown calls may never have happened. Fun to think about how these games would have actually ended had the correct call been made.

– Armando Galarraga’s “perfect” game in 2010

– The Cardinals would have had the first out in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Maybe they get the last two and win the Series?

– Derek Jeter’s famous home run–with a little help from Jeffrey Maier–would have been a double. Would the Orioles keep Jeter from scoring?

We have the technology to make the game as close to perfect as possible when it comes to umpiring. Umpires are on the field to make calls, not single-handedly decide the outcome of a game. In the rare instances in which an umpire’s decision directly affects the outcome, those calls need to be correct. This new challenge system should go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.

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