Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Baseball plans vote to expand use of instant replay

Major League Baseball plans to implement an expanded replay system either this season or in 2015.

That much is clear.

But with spring training a month away, there are still questions about when it will start and how exactly it will work.

"It's going to be flying by the seat of our pants for a while," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Owners are expected to vote on the issue in their meeting Thursday, having unanimously approved funding for it in August. The players' and umpires' unions must also sign off for expanded replay to take effect this season; if not, it will be unilaterally imposed in 2015.

The new system is likely to include almost all on-the-field decisions, outside of balls and strikes, with managers having a certain number of challenges each game. The reviews will be conducted by a centralized crew at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in Manhattan.

While baseball still has to work out the kinks and come to an agreement, many managers and players are in favor of using technology to get calls right.

"Of course I like it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said late last season. "I like flat-screen TVs with high definition. I like air conditioning in my 1956 Bel Air. I like computers. That group that argues against technology and advancement, I would challenge them to take away all the technology that makes our lives better. To bury your head in the sand and reference 'old school' all the time is a really poor argument.

"This is the time. It's our time to make the right decision. Live with it, understand it. It makes things better and more accurate. What's wrong with that?"

The challenge system

When expanded replay was announced in August, the plan was for managers to get three challenges per game — one over the first six innings, two over the final three. Then it was changed to two, and it's still up in the air.

MLB executive Joe Torre, who oversees umpires and is on the replay committee, said "we've missed a call one every 5.7 or (5.8) games."

As for how many challenges managers will actually get, Torre said, "The fewer the better."

"It's probably easier to increase later as opposed to pulling back," he said.

Managers won't be throwing red flags, like NFL coaches do, but likely will have until the next pitch to alert the umpire he's challenging. "It's going to put more pressure on managers about decisions," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Umpires could also have the option to ask for a limited number of replays.

The review

Who will the eyes in the sky be? It's still up in the air who exactly will be at the new replay command center in New York watching games and giving the final say on challenges. It may be an active or former umpire, or maybe a former player.

But Torre said the league's plan is to have the technology "standardized for everybody," so each stadium will have the same available camera angles.

The timing

One concern has been replay's impact on the pace of what is already a long game.

But the new system was tested in the Arizona Fall League, and Torre said reviews took an average of 1 minute, 30 seconds. Plus, Maddon says it will take a lot less time than if he were to have a prolonged onfield argument with an umpire.

"I think when it's all said and done, they will actually speed up games," Showalter said.

The pitfalls

Matheny points out that any new replay system won't be a "perfect science" off the bat.

There will be flaws and problems.

How will umpires determine where baserunners should advance to on trapped fly balls in the outfield? What happens when the replay official in New York gets challenges from several parks at the same time? How will people get trained on this?

But Showalter says the new system is a step in the right direction, helping umpires with the "hardest game to officiate," plus making it more fun for fans.

"The bottom line, it's going to make our game better," Showalter said. "I think it's going to be a little bit of an entertainment factor for the fans. Can you imagine watching the NFL or a college game without replay now? I think after a year or so we're going to say, why did we wait so long? I think the reason they waited was to get it right."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.

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