The Cubs/Brewers game Monday in Maryvale was one of several games set up for Major League Baseball's first replay-review test. Unfortunately (fortunately?), there were no plays that either Rick Renteria or Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had cause to challenge.
It started with a play in which the two players on the historic replay screen were a couple of soon-to-be household names who were thrilled to be immortalized (or whatever) -- Twins outfielder Chris Rahl and Blue Jays first baseman Jared Goedert.
And it started with a challenge by Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, which was issued not by tossing a red flag, an old rosin bag or a broken fungo bat -- but with a jog out to first base to invite first-base ump Fieldin Culbreth to get those replay machines off and whirring.
"John came out, and, basically, he told me, 'I'm not too sure that you're not right here. But since we haven't done it before, let's go take a look,'" Culbreth reported afterward. "And I said, 'OK. That's what it's for.'"
As further written by Stark, umpire Brian O'Nora, who was in a TV truck watching for reviews, took about two and a half minutes to confirm Culbreth's safe call. That doesn't seem too long -- most manager arguments take at least that long, although Stark writes that "most" reviews are expected to be shorter than that (between 60 and 90 seconds). During the regular season, there will be more cameras and thus more angles than the three FSN North cameras that were available Monday, and the reviews will take place in a central location in New York, not at each ballpark.
There was a second review done during the Twins/Blue Jays game, and this is good news:
Maybe the most encouraging thing that happened all day was the second challenge -- because it happened in the eighth inning, when Gibbons was out of challenges. So in this case, he couldn't officially challenge a close call at first -- but he could "request" one. And the umpires never hesitated in heading right back to the headsets. And that wasn't just because it was spring training and Day 1 in the replay lab and what the heck, either. "I'm not separating spring training from the regular season," said Culbreth, who was in the replay booth for the second review. "I'm looking at this thing as this is the future of the game. And I'm going to treat these games here the same way that I'm going to treat them during the regular season. And if there's a reason for me to doubt what happened on the field, in the seventh inning and beyond, when it's the umpires' right to go look at it, if that's how I truly feel about it, I'm going to go take a look at it." Let's all repeat together: Bravo.
So even though the "challenge" system is supposed to limit managers, they can also "request" reviews. And umpires, based on Culbreth's statement above, are just as interested in getting the calls right as managers, players and fans, so you might see virtually all bad calls reviewed.
As I have written before, there will be many games -- like Monday's Cubs/Brewers game -- where there will be no plays that will be reviewed. For long stretches of time, you might not even remember this system exists. I would guess that even in games where there are some controversies, you'd never see any game with more than three, possibly four at most, reviews. The Twins/Blue Jays game had two, and even the game participants didn't have any complaints:
We've heard repeatedly that the players' biggest fear about replay was that it would take too much time and destroy the rhythm of the game. But even after two reviews that ate up more than two minutes each, there wasn't a complaint to be heard.
"I didn't think it slowed the game down or anything too much," said Twins infielder Doug Bernier, whose sprint down the first-base line inspired the second review of the day. "I thought it was fine. I think everyone just wants to make sure you get the call right, so they were able to do that."
This all sounds really good. After years of having pretty much everyone in the game beg Bud Selig to get replay review going, it's finally here. It will make baseball better, because it will provide that the results on the field reflect what the players actually do, rather than one man's opinion (or four men's opinions) of what happened on a certain play.
For that, I echo Stark's call: Bravo.