SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- As you know if you have been reading here for any length of time, I have been a proponent of replay review in baseball for several years.
Now, it's about to become reality for baseball players, managers, umpires and fans for every regular-season and playoff game, starting with the ESPN season opener between the Dodgers and Padres Sunday night in San Diego.
Paul Hagen of MLB.com had a look at MLB's "replay center" the other day, quite an impressive-looking facility in New York City. Here's how replay reviews will work, as described by former umpire Justin Klemm, now director of replay and Chris Marinak, senior director, labor economy for MLB:
Each umpire will sit at a replay station on the right side of a cubicle with two high-definition monitors in front of him. To his left will be a technician with several smaller shots of various angles. When Klemm noticed a close play, he immediately began asking the tech for different angles. So he was already in the process of reviewing potential challenges even before Marinak, on his own headset, alerted him that an appeal had been made. After Klemm made his decision, he informed Marinak on the headset and the "game umpire" repeated it back to him, just to be certain there was no misunderstanding. The replay official has three possible calls. Confirmed: If replay shows clear evidence that the umps got it right. Stands: The replay was too close to tell one way or the other. Overturned: If there is inarguable evidence that a mistake was made. While this is going on, teams will now be allowed to show close plays on their video boards. If calls are confirmed or overturned, the technician will then forward the decisive angle to the stadium so that it can be shown on the scoreboard as well as on the television broadcasts. To further add transparency and fan-friendliness, a written explanation of the decision will be posted on MLB.com.
Video board... um... Wrigley Field... um... Well, the Cubs do have the LED board in right field and though it's small, it does have video capability, so maybe the Cubs will show these plays on that board.
I can tell you from having been at three games this spring where managers did challenge plays, the PA announcer each time said, "The previous play is under official review," and similar wording was placed on the video board at the spring-training park, including the board at Cubs Park in Mesa. It will be useful for all of us to note the distinction between an announcement of "confirmed" versus "stands," as described above. So far, the three plays I have seen were all "confirmed," and the only one that took what felt like a long time (longer than about two minutes) was the play challenged Thursday at Cubs Park by White Sox manager Robin Ventura.
Most games, I believe, will have no challenges or reviews at all. MLB provided these statistics after going through all 2013 games:
By MLB's reckoning, there were only 377 out of some 50,000 [plays] that merited review. Only 27 times did it happen twice in a game. On just three occasions, it happened three times, never against the same team.
Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, summed it all up and referred to a close play at second base in a Yankees/Tigers playoff game from 2012:
"I sort of like the game the way it was," Torre said with a laugh. "But there was a play at second base. And it was missed. There was a lot of conversation and stuff written about that play as opposed to the game itself. The one thing I didn't want to have happen was to have something like that take center stage over the game itself. That's when I realized that we certainly can't ignore the technology." It's Torre's guess that most challenges will be upheld on the basis of inconclusive evidence. And in the presentation it was surprising how many plays were too close to call, even with multiple angles and the best high-definition replays possible. The guess is also that managers will only use their challenges on plays that have a chance to impact the outcome. While pace of game remains a concern, Torre noted that this is an issue that extends beyond replay.
I think Torre is right about all of that, and you might say in response that this system is overkill. Perhaps so, but I think that even if fewer than one percent of plays come up for challenge, it's worth it if even one call is reversed that, as I have written before, makes the result on the field match what the players actually did, rather than what one man (or four men) thinks he saw.