It’s only a few games into the 2014 baseball season and already there's controversy over Major League Baseball's expansion of instant replay. The new replay rules, which previously applied only to home runs, now cover most plays on the field.
But for all the good instant replay does in ensuring the right calls are made, ultimately here’s why these changes are bad for baseball.
Challenges make a slow game slower
Officially, the two reviews in Tuesday’s game between the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays – one an ump’s review of a foul ball by Colby Rasmus, the other a challenge of a close play at first involving Melky Cabrera – took up a combined 4:57. Unofficially, if you include the milling around and long walks to the mound, it was easily double that. It also creates a hesitancy on the part of umps and managers that permeates the game.
Jays DH Adam Lind isn’t a fan. He points out outgoing MLB commissioner Bud Selig has spent his career trying speed up the pace of play and instant replay turns that on its head. But he has a tweak: “Yeah. Shot clock.”
Gamesmanship doesn’t make baseball better
Baseball has a long tradition of managers and players goosing the system to their advantage. Challenges have added another layer of gamesmanship that doesn’t add much to the product. You could see it in the opener, where both Gibbons and the Rays’ Joe Maddon went out onto the field to waste some time while some poor soul in their dugout was frantically viewing replays to decide whether to challenge.
Challenges don’t fix the real issue: consistency
One of the classic political obfuscation tactics is to answer a question that no one is asking. That’s sort of what MLB is doing. They are addressing a problem (missed calls) that exists but it’s not the central problem. That would be consistency in the strike zone. Subjecting balls and strikes to replay would slow the game to a glacial pace (and cause all the umpires to quit).
And, the challenge system offers no guarantee that errors aren't made. In the bottom of the first on Tuesday, Maddon trotted out to talk to the umpires after Jays catcher Dioner Navarro nabbed Matt Joyce on a steal attempt at second. Replays showed Ryan Goins missed the tag. Maddon would have had to challenge the call to see that. He didn’t.
Oh, the woes of technology
Challenges are supposed to increase fairness and narrow the scope of human error, but fairness comes with a learning curve. Case in point: In the first inning of the Jays first game of the season, Rays’ outfielder Desmond Jennings made a sliding catch that Gibbons says was hard to review because the team had some trouble with the replay system in the clubhouse. The Jays worked out their tech issues after that.
As well, Lind said it’s his impression teams are at the mercy of the local broadcast, which may or may not show angles that aid the visiting team. “I hope Rogers knows that,” he said, jokingly suggesting the team owner and broadcaster might offer some hometown help.
Challenges mean less kicked dirt
Some people just love an argument. It appears a good many of those folks are baseball managers. Gibbons, ejected five times last year, feels something has been lost under the new system. “It’s almost like it took some of the intensity out of [the game],” he said Tuesday.
In short, there are fewer reason for managers to have a go at the ump. “They think you think they missed [the call]. So if you argue, they’re going to go ‘what are you arguing about? Appeal it.’ ”