Major League Baseball announced yesterday that all 30 teams unanimously approved implementing an instant replay system for the 2014 regular season and postseason. This is a huge step in the right direction for a sport that traditionally resists wholesale change. MLB is the last of the major US leagues to allow replay during the regular season, so while the new system isn't perfect, it's been a long time coming.
The league has made a host of plays reviewable, including ground rule doubles, fan interference, boundary calls, force outs, tags, foul balls and traps in the outfield, and hit by pitches, among a few others. Home runs will be challengable by the manager, but the umpire's Crew Chief can initiate a review of a home run call at any time during the game.
The Best Parts
MLB took a chapter out of the NHL's playbook with the review system, as there will be a centralized "Replay Command Center" at MLB Advanced Media HQ in New York. The on-field umpires will grab a headseat near home plate, which will put them in contact with the Command Center and a team of Replay Officials. This team will then review all the video feeds available to them before making a call. This system is far superior to the one the NFL employs, in which a referee leaves the field of play to watch the video feeds himself. With MLB's system, the same people are looking at all plays across the league that day, which brings uniformity to the system.
Teams will also be able to have a video reviewer in their clubhouse to review all close plays, and they'll have access to the same video feeds as the officials in New York. If there is a play worth challenging, they'll communicate it to the manager via a phone in the dugout similar to the bullpen phone.
Replays of all plays can now also be shown on the jumbotrons during the game, even for the controversial plays, which will greatly improve the fan experience. When fans are at a game, they won't have to take to social media to ask "what did the replay look like on TV?" They'll be able to see it at the stadium.
The Worst Parts
While baseball did a lot right with the review process and reviewable plays, there are some issues. Now, I'm not sure there is a perfect system, but there are a couple of things that I find particularly problematic.
First, the manager's challenge system is severely flawed. Managers have one challenge per game unless they "win" that challenge, in which case, they have one more challenge available to them in that game. I understand that the goal of limited challenges is to prevent the pace of play from being interrupted too severely. If an umpiring crew is having a particularly bad day, or if the manager gets bad information from his clubhouse video person and gets his one challenge incorrect, the manager's hands are tied from rectifying future issues.
Second, the "neighborhood play" on a double play at second base isn't reviewable. If you don't know what the neighborhood play is, it's when the fielder tagging second base is considered "close enough" to the bag as they try to turn the double play, and the umpire calls the runner out, even if the fielder isn't actually touching the bag while he holds the ball. MLB went so far with this system, making so many things reviewable, why not include this scenario? People will make an argument that the neighborhood play is an accepted norm in the game, but isn't the point of replay to get the calls right? This is basically Major League Baseball saying, "we care about getting the calls right, well, except for that one."
All of that said…
Those couple of rants aside, baseball has done a great job getting replay together for the first time. Just because this is what the system looks like now doesn't mean that's what it will look like in the coming years. I'm sure there will be tweaks and changes made over the years, but this is a great start. Welcome to the 21st Century, baseball.