Give A Hoot, Institute Baseball Replay!

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An umpire's job is difficult and thankless. Thanks to the miracle of instant replay, however, we also know an umpire's job is also incredibly easy to screw up, even at the highest level (Major League Baseball) at the most important time (the playoffs).

Earlier this year, I called for expanded instant replay (and maybe even an automated strike zone) after the umps blew the call on the play of the year. We've had home runs replayed for a year and a half now; it seems to have gone pretty well. Without replay, A-Rod's World Series homer remains a double, Cole Hamels doesn't implode, and the Phillies win in five. (Perhaps this is a bit of conjecture on my part.)

But the stupidest thing about baseball replay (and pro football, and the NBA) is that the referees themselves have to go over to a television and make the decisions themselves. In baseball, they have to go run down the dugout steps to go watch the replay on a little hut. In football, they have a ridiculous hood.

Instant replay systems in American sports seem to be designed with one goal in mind: Let's not hurt the official's feelings. This is stupid. If an ump or ref doesn't want his feelings hurt, he can either (a) realize officiating is hard and live with making mistakes or (b) not make any damn mistakes.

My instant replay system is simple. It adds a new video replay umpire, who will be responsible for all disputed calls. It's so simple I can illustrate where the new ump will be using a simple field graphic (field used: Veterans Stadium).

replay.dykstra.jpg

Yes, the new ump will be somewhere not on the field! "But who will managers yell at?!" you'll ask, and I'll say, "No one, because most of the bad calls will be fixed by replay and we can finally end this stupid 'tradition' of managers getting in an umpire's face and calling him a cocksucker."

The replay ump will be somewhere in the stadium. He'll be able to talk to the umps on the field and maybe even have a direct line to the league office to ask questions if he gets confused. He'll have a direct line to the nearest concession stand so someone can bring him a soda if he gets thirsty. The umps can buzz him if they want a play reviewed, or the replay umpire can institute it himself. If the ump on the field has a problem with his call being overturned, he can go to hell.

Coaches won't get any challenges, because the replay ump (and his assistant, me) will make sure the close plays get reviewed, up in the booth. If there's no change needed, there might not even be a slowdown or stoppage in play. A quick check upstairs to see if that double was a homer... and, look, it wasn't, let's just have play continue. Just because pro football reviews are slow and painful doesn't mean baseball reviews need to be. With an extra ump doing the work (and me, whipping him to go faster), this system should be pretty good. We'll install extra cameras pointing at all the bases, too, just to keep this system as thorough as possible.

How much would this slow the game down? Undoubtedly, some. How much? Tim McCarver thinks roughly two hours. Someone with a sense of time (me) will go with: Five, ten minutes a game at most. Maybe -- maybe! -- fifteen if there are a bunch of particularly close calls. Look, baseball is a slow game already. Isn't doing things right better than doing things fast?

If you really want to speed up baseball, simply ban Jorge Posada from playing the sport ever again.

So what'll be up for review in this new system? Everything (except balls, strikes and balk calls, another matter entirely). Everything! Calls at first base. Fair/foul calls. Possible dropped fly balls. Calls at second base. Possible dropped third strikes. Calls at third base. Calls at home plate!

Right: The truth is, there really isn't much to review during a baseball game. and instituting replay could be extremely painless. Of course, baseball is not interested in even discussing expanded replay, for fear it would make so much sense they would have to do it.

I admit, I do not understand the traditionalists' approach. "We want those calls wrong!" they argue. To me, we should keep the good traditions (hot dogs, mascots, getting stoned in the parking lot before the game) and get rid of the bad ones (incorrect calls, ridiculously dirty batting helmets, Jorge Posada) in order to make the game better and more enjoyable.

But I should toss in a caveat about instant replay: In my research for this article (read: Googling for 2 minutes), I did come across a comment on this blog entry that summed up the anti-replay argument succinctly:

Ted Williams didn't need a video/computer assist to hit the damn ball, so why should umpires be saddled with such dubious "assistance" to make calls?

The video cameras are in on it, people. First they get their claws (err, tripods) on baseball, then they take over the world. Perhaps my replay plan isn't as good as I thought.

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37 Comments

Dmac invents the NHL instant replay system.

Colonel: Right. I'm sure people who watch hockey (or rugby) are going to come in and complain about how bad the replay official is or whatever, too. But with baseball it's so much easier! There are already a billion stoppages of play. Honestly, I don't understand why replay hasn't been a part of the game for years. I mean, I do, I just don't get it.

I actually think the NHL system is the best replay system in sports. It's the one thing they've done right in about 10 years.

I agree with Colonel. I love the replay sytem in the NHL, I was thinking about how similar it was to what Dmac was writing while I was reading the article.

Are the hockey video games still really good? I used to love them on Sega Genesis.

Robot umps! Robot umps!

Funny you mention replay in the NHL, Colonel. The only way you'll get twenty million folks to watch a single hockey goal on TV is if you replay it thirty times.

I'd have a funny rebuttal, Rob, if about half of the regular season Blues games weren't blacked out due to some bullshit network/cable provider money grab. But as it is: touché.

NHL 95 rocked. One timer to Roenick would work every time.

NHL Hitz 2003 is the best unrealistic hockey game ever. Why? Two words: GOALIE FIGHTS.

Even more unrealistic than Mutant League Hockey?

Nothing is more unrealistic than Mutant League Hockey. As much as I've tried, you can't kill the opposition in NHL Hitz...

COCKSUCKER /kicks dirt on Dmac's spikes

The slippery slope started in basketball when they put a clock in the stands, thus replacing the 4th official who had to spend the game counting "one mississippi, two mississippi" for the length of regulation time. When they gave that up, they gave up their rights to be the ultimate arbiter of everything.

Hilarious. And this is pretty much exactly the system I've been calling for (which I'm convinced is entirely original; I'll believe there's a league called the "NHL" when I see some evidence that it has existed since about 1994).

As for the time issue: why not bar managers from coming out of the dugout to argue plays at all (or plays that have been reviewed, or set a time limit on it or something)? I'm sure managers waste more time kicking dirt than an instant video review would take.

Even with the NHL replay system (which, by far, is the best replay system in pro sports) installed in MLB, I bet we'd still have the manager-umpire shouting matches. I agree that you can't use replay on balls and strikes and expanded replay isn't gonna quell the short fuses and itchy trigger fingers of some umpires. Frankly, I'm surprised we didn't see an ejection in the postseason...

Replay makes a lot of sense in many situations, but I haven't seen anyone come up with an idea that, at least in certain situations, would almost do more harm than good. A home run or out at first with no one on is simple and straightforward, and technology could easily help get those plays right. But in a lot of situations a player needs to react to a call on the field, and would act differently depending on the call. Consider a close trap/catch call. If it's a trap, a baserunner needs to advance, if it's a catch he needs to return to his base. If that call is wrong and you overturn it, then you need to assume where baserunners would have ended up. Remember Howard's trap/catch double play in the WS? They got the wrong call, but it can't be overturned because if it had been the other way a whole different chain of events would have played out in terms of throwing to other bases and tagging runners.

What happens when there's a fair ball that gets called foul on the field (cf. Joe Mauer vs. the Yankees) with a speedy runner on first. If you overturn it, then the umps are in the even worse position of having to figure out where he would have ended up. Maybe he scores, maybe he gets thrown out at the plate, maybe he stops at third. You'll never know how it would have played out in the alternate universe where the call was right, so you're leaving it up to the very speculative decision of the ump as to whether or not to award a run.

I'm not making an argument against replay, because I want the calls to be right as much as anyone. I just can't figure out how it would work and haven't seen a plan by someone smarter than me that addresses this (and don't say it becomes a do-over, because that satisfies no one). Sorry for the long-winded post, but I think replay is a fascinating subject and could go on for hours about it.

Let's never, ever bar managers from coming out of the dugout and arguing anything they damn well please, but only if they are animated in the Billy Martin or Earl Weaver style, and not mopey in the Grady Little style.

ENTERTAIN ME, CLOWN

You want to talk about traditions that should be maintained, bring back the lassez-faire attitude towards getting stoned IN the park. That's a tradition I can support.

re: timphilly: I think you could come up with a standardized system there for awarding runner bases on replay. I think, even for a speedy runner, being awarded one base instead of two on a botched line call is better than the runner being stranded there on what the umps believed was a foul ball.

Hell, let's just give headphones to all the umps and they can take their cues from Buck and McCarver!
WE DON'T NEED 19 CAMERA POSITIONS TO ANALYZE A BASEBALL GAME!
Let the umps get an ass-chewing by the grand-pubah ump after the game, and move on.
A few missed calls won't turn the game upside-down.

(But someday all of us grumpy old assholes will be dead, and you kids can do whatever new-fangled shit you want)

I agree with MDT in response to timphilly's concerns. If a player is errantly called out, you can really only allow runners to advance one base. I think the only exceptions would be where baseball already has a rule for a given situation. For instance if a fair ball is errantly called foul, but the ball proceeded to bounce into the stands for a ground rule double, upon review (and subsequent call reversal) the ground rule double applies to the situation on the basepaths.

It's not really "fair" to only award one base to a guy who would clearly have scored from second, but isn't it better to have first and third than to have your guys doubled up on a disputed call?

The umps already make judgment calls on fan interference

They already do have situations where they have to decide what would have happened had play not been stopped (like deciding how far a runner would have advanced where the ball ends up in the stands somehow or other). I'd much rather get the BIG issue right -- is he safe or out -- and leave some uncertainty in the relatively minor issues of whether he ends up on first or second, etc.

MDT, phanatic and Bill,
You're right, that's probably how such a plan (if baseball ever implemented it) would play out. My point was that it's just never going to be a perfect system, I guess. In reality, calls like that probably wouldn't happen a whole lot if it were an unobtrusive system like dmac suggests (as opposed to umpires trudging off the field anytime a call was close).

dmac, your plan is pretty sound. Let me throw you this warning, though--as someone who watches about 156 hours of college football every Saturday, I can tell you that a bad replay system is much, much worse than no replay system at all.

@Gorge
Agreed. CFB has the worst replay there is. I am going to the Gophers game this weekend and I am really excited to sit outside in MINNESOTA for five hours while every other play is review by the refs.

Lasers. This could all be solved using lasers.

BCTF, that new stadium looks great on tv (I think every Gopher home game has been on espn2, or it least it seems that way); how is it in person? Must be great to finally have something on campus.

This replay problem seems like the kind of intractable issue that cries for the logic and consideration of Robot Frempkins.

I have been there once and it was great. When I was a student I had season tickets for four years so I was really looking forward to seeing it. My opinion is kind of skewed because I am used to the Metrodome. I thought the Oakland Coliseum was a great place to watch baseball when I went there this summer. That's how easy it is to please me.

Stockholm Stadium Syndrome, BCTF. I still miss the old Cleveland Municipal.

I miss the Vet for football, but not for baseball.

You think anybody in Pittsburgh misses Three Rivers Stadium?

I'm sure no one misses the Spectrum.

Not so fast, Chief. The Spectrum was great for concerts and hockey. The Wachovia Center is too bright, too sterile, and really empty for Sixers games.

I want robots so bad. Robots and lasers and hookers and beer and drugs and beer.

The Wachovia Center was pretty good when the Sixers were good (2000-01, etc.). Remember that? The 76ers were bigger than anything, and they were up 1-0 in the finals and... then everything went to hell.

The Spectrum concourses were so small it was painful. Look, I saw Summerslam '90 there, so obviously I have an attachment to the place, but I prefer seeing events at the Wachovia Center. (You think they'll just rename it the Wells Fargo Spectrum once they knock down the real Spectrum?)

If we're using the NHL replay set up as the ideal I think you'd easily be adding 15 mins to every game and more if there are a lot of close plays. The NHL replay system doesn't seem that bad because those replays happen once every 5 games. But when they do it's 3-5 mins every time.

There wouldn't be... "If there's no change needed, there might not even be a slowdown or stoppage in play" because you'd have to stop play. On every close play. Otherwise the pitcher is just going to throw a pitch if the call went his way (like QBs trying to get a quick snap after a close play). Then the ump has to waddle on over and talk to the replay official on the phone (which is the NHL's process). Unless you want to put him up on the big screen and get him to give a thumbs down or thumbs up, which would be hilarious. Gotta find the best camera angle, watch it a few times etc...

Now, I'm not saying that time is a good argument against getting it right but holy hell, I honestly believe there could be games with 30 mins of delays. Honestly. Baseball has a LOT of close plays that would be reviewable and with no cap... look out.

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