Like most baseball fans, I'm quite intrigued by the possibilities of expanded instant replay starting this season. I wrote a long blog several years ago about the need for it, and I'm not going to go through all of those arguments again.
I'm very happy to see that John Schuerholz, the chairman of the committee that put together the current proposal, embraced a notion I pushed for strongly in my earlier post, namely that even in an early inning of a game early in the season, a missed call can potentially cost a team a spot in the post-season. The notion that any missed call is important enough to correct is crucial to increased instant replay making an impact in the future.
However, I am disturbed by the other key component of the proposed new which I keep hearing about, namely that managers might be allowed to challenge only one call per game. This is modeled on the NFL system in a way and is designed, I gather, to prevent an inordinate number of delays during the game while officials review the replays of disputed calls. This makes more sense in a continuous-clock game like football than in baseball, where there is already a discernible pause between each pitch and each batter.
If MLB limits managers to one challenge per game, or even to two challenges, it will be the most asinine, self-defeating policy possible. It will completely negate the principle stated by Schuerholz that any call can be the difference between winning and losing a game that might ultimately determine a team's fate in a given season.
Why? Because it would force a manager into a guessing game that involves the impossible challenge to be prescient about the rest of the game. The example cited in the latest article I read (written by Paul Hagen and posted at mlb.com) was a second-inning home run by Chase Utley which was called a foul ball even though replay revealed that it touched the foul pole. Manager Charlie Manuel would have had to decide that this was important enough to challenge, even though the game might later turn into a blowout. By challenging it then, he would forfeit the right to challenge and even more egregious mistake later in the game in a situation that clearly might determine the game's outcome.
But why should a manager be forced to let any bad call stand? Teams will have replays available right away which will tell the manager that a call was missed. If it is true that "90 percent" of all plays will qualify as "reviewable," why put limits on how many a manager can challenge. If an umpiring crew has a bad day--and they all do at some point, just as they have many games with no bad calls--why should any team be penalized late in the game simply because that call in the second inning was so horrible that it had to be challenged?
Here's my simple solution, so elegant in its simplicity that I'm astonished that nobody else has proposed it. A manager can challenge any call at any time involving any of the situations deemed reviewable according to the present proposal. If the call is wrong, it is changed. If umpires make two bad calls in a game, or four or ten or twenty, any of them can affect the outcome, so they should all be changed. If the idea is to get the calls right and let games be determined by what actually happened and not by what an umpire thought happened, then let's get them all right.
But here's the catch. If MLB is worried about a manager "abusing" the privilege of challenging calls, here's how to prevent it. If a manager challenges a call which turns out to be the correct call, he is ejected from the game and the subsequent acting manager loses the privilege. The calls will be reviewed not by the umpires on the field but by officials off the field who have no stake in the rest of the game. So the manager had better be right.
Simple, right? The bottom line is all that matters. Get the calls right. If they're not right when made, correct them. Give the manager one minute to argue case on the field while the folks back in the clubhouse look at the replays and signal him that he either does or doesn't have a case. If he has a case, he'll ask for the replay. If he doesn't, he'll get his ass back in the dugout and not waste any more time.
Telling a manager that 90 percent of all plays are reviewable and then saying he can only ask for one replay a game is like turning a gourmand loose in the biggest and best buffet in the world and telling him he can only have one salad plate full of food. Or sending me to Woodstock and saying I could only watch one performer. Who would be able to skip The Who or Janis Joplin, who performed on Saturday, in the hopes that it would be worth sticking around for Jimi Hendrix, who didn't hit the stage until 8AM on Monday morning?
If you want to get the calls right, let the replay system work. Don't turn it into a guessing game and a baseball version of Catch-22.