After further review, baseball replay system far from perfect - COLUMN
Saturday, April 05, 2014 12:00 AM
It took a mere two games for the biggest flaw in the Major League Baseball replay system to be exposed. And that flaw potentially cost the San Francisco Giants a game.
In the fourth inning of the Giants-Diamondbacks game on Monday night in Phoenix, Giants manager Bruce Bochy left the dugout to challenge a call at first base. Bochy argued that the Diamondbacks runner, A.J. Pollock, should have been called out on a pick-off attempt by pitcher Matt Cain. The umpires took to the headsets, got word from New York, and confirmed the safe call.
Two batters later, with Pollock now standing at third, a ball got away from catcher Buster Posey and Pollock raced home, but Posey recovered quickly and got the ball to Cain covering the plate before Pollock arrived. Though Pollock tried to evade a tag, he appeared to be out. The home plate umpire ruled that Pollock was safe, and, though Bochy came out to argue again, but he could not challenge the play at the plate, and what would prove to be the winning run for the Diamondbacks scored without review.
You see, there is a loophole, and one that should probably be closed as soon as possible. Because Bochy had already challenged and lost, he could not challenge another play. And because the play happened prior to the seventh inning, the umpires themselves were not allowed to initiate a review of the play. So, right or wrong, the play stood.
Replay has already been used effectively several times to correct improper calls on the bases and on the boundaries, but there have also been one or two oddities.
During the Reds-Cardinals game on Thursday night, with runners at first and second and nobody out, Matt Holliday hit a deep drive to right-center, but Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton appeared to get a glove on the ball and flip it back toward the field of play, where it landed in the glove of Jay Bruce. Umpires on the field ruled the play a catch (and MLB Network analyst Eric Byrnes called it the greatest play in baseball history) before replays showed that Hamilton never made contact with the ball and it had ricocheted off the wall before finding its way to Bruce.
Though the play was overturned and correctly ruled a live ball, the baserunners were assigned to move up only one base and Holliday was credited with a single, leaving the bases loaded for St. Louis. Surely, on any ball off the right-center field fence, the runner at second base would have scored easily and the runner at first would have advanced to third. Because the umpires initially ruled the play as an out, however, they awarded those runners only one base.
That quirky placement of the runners didn’t ultimately change the outcome, as the Cardinals would score three times in the inning on their way to a 7-6 win, but if somehow Cincinnati would have been able to escape that jam without allowing a run, this could have been disastrous.
As far as a lot of baseball fans are concerned, I’m pretty liberal in my beliefs. I like idea of baseball using the technology available to get calls right, and I like that the scope of what’s reviewable is limited, which keeps things like a left hander’s pick-off move from being challenged to see if it was a balk. Heck, I even like the DH rule and can’t wait for the day it’s utilized in both leagues (but that’s another column), but I do see the need for an immediate tweak or two with the replay system as it has been adopted.
As they have finally decided to do in the NFL, why not review all scoring plays? It wouldn’t have to stop the game at all. There is a room in New York where active umpires are watching these games and are making the replay calls once a challenge is issued. Just have those guys check every scoring play. If that umpire sees a questionable call, not even clear-cut wrong, but simply questionable, he can send the signal to stop the game so the play can be reviewed. It shouldn’t matter if the run being contested is in the first inning or the ninth.
Also, why not give the umpires on the field access to review any call they aren’t sure about, without having to wait until the seventh inning to do so? I think the general baseball world was worried about these replays delaying the game to a point where they’d be playing four-and-a-half hour snoozefests that didn’t involve the Yankees and Red Sox. What we’ve seen, however, is that the overwhelming majority of these situations are solved in less than three minutes, or about as long as it takes for a pitching coach to visit the mound.
Replay has been added to baseball games as a way to allow the umpires to better do their jobs. Why then should we restrict how they use the tools they are given? I like the challenge system for managers and I think there will be fewer arguments from the dugouts going forward. That, in itself, should more than make up for the potential time lost to reviewing a scoring play, or an umpire checking his own call in the sixth inning, with or without a challenge.
The system was installed to make sure that games weren’t decided by a potentially wrong call. The way it is currently constructed, however, doesn’t prevent the possibility.
Just ask Bruce Bochy.