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Lorton: Time for replays in MLB (Nov. 15)

By Isaac Lorton | Friday, November 15, 2013


When it comes to changing traditions, Major League Baseball is almost as a bad as Notre Dame. Yesterday, the 30 owners unanimously approved to fund the expansion of instant replay in the MLB beginning in the 2014 season. It was the first vote in a two-part process; the second vote will come on Jan. 16 in Paradise Valley, Ariz., to finalize the new rules. 

The NFL instituted replay in 1986, the NHL in 1991 and the NBA in 1992. In 2008, the MLB partially caved in and allowed the review of whether a ball was a homerun or not, but that was the extent of replay in the MLB. 

Former MLB commissioner Bud Selig played a large role in preventing a full-scale replay system to be enacted in professional baseball. Selig, and baseball fans, can get very stuck in their ways and baseball often carries a genteel-like atmosphere. Their arguments for not having replays go something like this, “Umpires may make mistakes, but it’s part of the game. It’s always been a part of the game. Why change it now?” 

But MLB has to compete with the NFL, NBA and a rising NHL – all have a large following of young fans. But with Selig’s retirement and MLB’s need to attract a younger fan base, the owners’ unanimous vote for instant replay is a massive move forward for baseball.       

At this point, however, it is uncertain as to what the new replay rules will be exactly.

MLB’s Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred said tag plays, out/safe at first and fair/foul beyond the base will be included in the new rules for replays. Balls and strikes, checked swings and foul tips will not be eligible for review. 

All challenges will be sent to New York for official judgment and the head umpire will wear a headset and be able to hear the verdict. The initial idea is that managers will have two challenges per game. If the challenge is correct it will not count against the manager’s total. 

Selig argued that ball games already take too long, and with replays, the game times will only increase, while the fan’s interest will decrease. This is a very valid concern. The average 9-inning game length in 2013 was 2:59 and in the playoffs it increased to 3:17. 

With almost every play up for review, and if no challenges are deducted for being correct, there could feasibly be a very large number of challenges, which assuredly would slow the game down. There is also the concern that teams would stall in order to give their personnel time to review the play before making a challenge. 

The positives provided by replay in MLB far outweigh the concerns. Obviously, adding brand new rules will be a process and baseball will have to see what works best, but instant replay in any form is an improvement. Future Armando Galarraga’s of MLB will not be cheated of a perfect game, and future 1985 Cardinals will be able to explain a World Series loss without the excuse of a blown call. 

Obviously baseball officials will still miss calls, but instant replay will lessen the likelihood that officiating mistakes affect the outcomes of contests. The NFL is still working out its instant replay kinks and it has been in use for 27 years. There are still lapses in the system in the NFL (See the “Brady Tuck Rule” and last year’s “Fail Mary”), just as there will be in the MLB. It will simply take time to determine the most fitting replay system. Obviously it will be hard to decide what can be challenged, as “phantom” double plays and tags are very common in the MLB. But by voting for instant replay, MLB is showing a much-needed willingness to change and improve.              


Contact Isaac Lorton at [email protected].
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.