MLB Instant Replay Reform Announced, Treating Symptoms and Not Causes of Review

Patrick McDermott

Starting next season, Major League Baseball's replay policies will undergo major changes.

In 2008, Major League Baseball took the first step in the overdue and necessary process of reviewing questionable and important calls on the field by allowing umpiring crews to review questionable home run calls. Since that time, umpires have, more often than not, made the right decision when watching replays. So it's been a good start, but even Baseball knew that it wasn't the final solution to the game's institution of review.

Today, Bud Selig announced that a revamped system for review will be instituted for the 2013 season.

Under this framework, a manager is allowed three challenges: one through the first six innings, and two more that can be used from the seventh inning until the end of the game. If the challenge is upheld, the manager keeps it, similar to the NFL. If the play is not overturned, the manager loses one of his challenges.

Unlike the NFL, the MLB system will not have a flag to throw. The manager must give the closest umpire a verbal notification. Once that is done, the home plate umpire or crew chief will use a nearby communications center - somewhere near the backstop or camera bays - for a direct, secure line to the MLB Advanced Media offices, which are located in lower Manhattan.

At the central office, a crew of umpires and technicians will monitor each game -- similar to what the NHL uses in Toronto -- to provide an instant review and ruling on the play. The ultimate decision will be made by the umpire watching the replay in that Manhattan office, not anyone on the field.

There are some positive improvements that will be made. The fact that baseball is trying to find a way to review questionable plays that aren't home runs is a good thing. The fact that the replays will be reviewed and judged in a central office not in the ballpark is a good thing, too.

The problem here is that this solution actually doesn't solve the problem. You can see what baseball is trying to do: by limiting the number of challenges, game delays will be kept to a minimum; by giving control of the challenges to the managers, managers can directly affect and challenge the calls they don't like. But neither of these things allow for the solution of making sure that as many plays as possible are called correctly.

If a manager challenges a play in the fifth and his challenge isn't upheld, he loses the ability to challenge the play that gets missed in the sixth. If a game goes into extra innings, managers may feel the need to not challenge a call on a stolen base because they want to ensure they have he ability to challenge a scoring play who-knows-how-many innings later.

Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz:

"We believe there's a happy balance between getting more calls right for the first time and still maintaining and protecting those elements of our game," Schuerholz said. "The uniqueness of baseball, how it flows, and the charm of it. We want to protect that."

Baseball's biggest mistake is treating the symptoms incorrect calls, game delays and manager egos, instead of the cause of the issue, getting plays right. It's possible to still get those plays right without destroying baseball's unique nature, without disrupting the flow as the challenge system already would, without taking the game's charm away, and by taking the reform to the level where incorrect calls can actually be kept to a minimum. The integrity that Shuerholz is claiming this half-solution upholds either doesn't exist, or would be torn down anyway based on said half-solution, depending on how you look at it.

Of course, the proposal as outlined today is not final. Representatives from all 30 teams will need to vote on the proposal in November, by which point changes could already have been made or, at the very least, additional changes could be planned for the future.

Those changes could be something as radical as having a fifth umpire at every game, in a booth away from the playing field. They could include the potential for unlimited reviews because, let's be honest, a vast majority of the time umpires are making the correct calls anyway (but the current proposal doesn't solve the issue of getting plays right and part of that issue is by limiting the number of challenges allowed). Or it could be the umpires themselves who initiate reviews, whether they're appealing to a fifth member of their team or to a dedicated team in New York, although I'll admit that putting an umpire in charge of initiating a review could, in some circumstances, be just as disruptive as putting the manager in charge.

This current proposal, as it stands, only goes part of the way in solving the issue of review in our favorite sport. Hopefully baseball sees this as the case as well, but we'll find out how far the process goes come November.

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