Six weeks into the season, my thoughts on instant replay are mixed at best. The way I see it, MLB’s method of instituting replay review this year is kind of like using a spoon to perform surgery instead of a scalpel. The whole thing lacks deftness. Accuracy is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing, and I’m concerned that game flow and watchability are being negatively impacted. Moreover, there are opportunities being lost because even if replay in its current form is beneficial overall, it could still be much improved with just a few tweaks:
– No reviews on “safe” calls for pickoffs. Virtually every pickoff throw results in a somewhat close call at first base. No one has ever complained that a game was lost because of a blown “safe” call on a pickoff play. And baserunners should get the benefit of the doubt, because stolen bases add a dynamic and enjoyable element to the game. Let’s just leave this one alone.
– No more stalling. If you think about it, each replay review currently involves TWO separate reviews. There’s the official review after a challenge, when MLB officials decide whether to overturn a call. But there’s also the review by the challenging team prior to deciding whether to challenge, where the team manager walks oh-so-slowly out to the field and casually asks the umpire what he ate for lunch, then peers into the dugout to see whether his bench coach (who’s on the phone with the team video guys) gives him a thumbs up or thumbs down. Watching television is probably a waste of my time as it is; I certainly don’t need additional minutes of that time wasted watching the cameras zoom in on some guy TALKING ON THE PHONE. The rules actually say that a manager needs to say whether he wants to challenge “immediately” when “prompted” by an umpire; the umpires need to enforce this more stringently. Let’s cut the time that teams have to decide whether to challenge; if they can’t figure it out in that time, well, it’s probably not worth challenging in the first place. Also, managers shouldn’t be able to stall by walking slowly; they should have to make an irrevocable signal to challenge prior to the next pitch without delaying the game. They could throw a red flag on the field, like in football, or even better, there should be a big red lever set up in each dugout where if you pull it, all the lights in the stadium start flashing and a loud booming voice says “CHALLENGE!” and then the Final Jeopardy theme music starts to play. You can even customize the effects for each team and stadium or use evil-sounding music for visiting teams’ challenges. The more I think about this idea, the more I am completely incredulous that this hasn’t happened yet.
– Two challenges per game per team, period. Currently, each team has a challenge per game. If you challenge a call correctly, you get another one. Simple enough, right? The problem is what happens in the late innings, because no one seems to really know. If you have a challenge left after the 7th innings, you can of course use it. But if you don’t have one, you can request that the umpires review the play anyways. As far as I know, umpires have never denied this request, which means as long as you don’t piss off the umps too much, you can have essentially unlimited reviews in the late innings. Theoretically, if every inning after the 9th ends with a tie score, a baseball game could last an infinite amount of time. In some parallel universe out there, there is a baseball game that started in 1900 and is still going. Being a person that likes conflict to eventually resolve, this thought makes me uncomfortable. But if you add in a potentially infinite amount of reviews, then you’re talking about games that could last infinity x infinity. And I just can’t handle that. Let’s make it two reviews, with one additional review if you get your review correct. Not only will this make me sleep better at night, it introduces an additional element of strategy and minimizes the frivolous reviews of insignificant plays.