Baseball is a sport full of traditionalists. People are quite happy with the way the game is, thank you very much. Because there has been a big resistance to change, the game of baseball is still prone to things like blown calls that can cost games.
The term “expanded replay” has been on the minds of baseball fans since 2008. In the latter half of that year, Major League Baseball implanted a replay system to help with questionable home run calls.
Anyone remember Jeffrey Maier? Yankees fans do. In Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series, the Baltimore Orioles held a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the eighth. Up comes Derek Jeter. The pitch. The swing. As Yanks’ broadcaster John Sterling would say, “It is high! It is far! It is gone!” What a play. Jeter ties the game late and they won in extra innings.
Wait, what about this Maier kid? If he hadn’t reached out over the right-field fence and caught the ball, Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco would’ve made the catch and the Yanks would’ve gone to the ninth inning down a run.
If you see the replay, the ball was clearly not going out. Maier stuck his hands out, caught it and the umps ruled it a home run.
Fast forward to August 27, 2008. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig decided that he’ll allow for limited replay only in the cases of “boundary calls”—basically, if a foul ball is actually foul or a home run. That means that Maier’s interference wouldn’t count.
Selig, a known opponent of full replay, told ESPN in 2008 that his “opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play. I really think that the game has prospered for well over a century now doing things the way we did it.”
He also told ESPN that “any time you try to change something in baseball, it’s both emotional and difficult. There’s been some concern that, well, if you start here, look what it’s going to lead to. Not as long as I’m the commissioner.”
Let’s fast-forward again. On January 16, 2014, a press release came out from the MLB titled: “MLB clubs unanimously approve expansion of instant replay.”
Looks like Mr. Selig may have revised his views on expanded replay.
As far as baseball being traditional, this is far from the norm. The replay system now covers many more plays and, not unlike football, coaches get the opportunity to challenge a play.
The New York Daily News reported that team managers will get one replay review (challenge) per game. Should the call on the field get overturned, the manager will get one more challenge to use during the game.
Now, the expansion of the replay system doesn’t mean that every single little play in the game is subject to review.
Per the MLB press release, there are 13 types of plays that can be reviewed. These are: home runs, ground rule doubles, fan interference, stadium boundary calls (e.g., fielder into stands, ball into stands triggering dead ball), force plays (except the fielder’s touching of second base on a double play) tag plays (including steals and pickoffs), fair/foul in outfield, trap play in outfield, batter hit by pitch, timing plays (whether a runner scores before a third out), touching a base, passing runners and record keeping (ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions). Anything else is not reviewable.
One of the biggest things that this will eliminate is the iconic manager-umpire scuffle. In the course of a night in the MLB, inevitably an ump will make a bad call, and out comes the manager like a bat out of hell, kicking, yelling, cursing, throwing his cap. It’s quite the spectacle.
Now, if there’s an issue, all a manager has to do is simply tell the umpire to review it, and the play gets reviewed. Nice and simple.
Well, let’s not forget the whole baseball-fans-are-really-traditional thing. The thought of losing blown calls and umpire-manager arguments is actually upsetting fans. They cite that controversy is good for the game, and that blown calls are as germane to baseball as hot dogs and Cracker Jacks.
The simple fact of the matter is that replay is good. It’s so nice and easy to sit around and think about how great it is that the game of baseball that we know is the same as it was “back in the day.” Try telling that to Tarasco as he watched a kid in a Yankees hat rob the Orioles of a possible playoff win.
Or how about you try telling that to Armando Galarraga, who had a perfect game ripped from him on the last out of the game? With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and a perfect game to that point, Galarraga pitched to Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians. Donald hit a ground ball, which was played to first for a clear out. Umpire Jim Joyce saw Donald touch first, and Galarraga lost his perfect game. Every single replay showed Donald out by a mile.
If Galarraga pitched that exact same game this season, Donald would be out and the 24th perfect game would be preserved in history.
It’s one thing to talk about “the old times” and what baseball “used to be.” The fact of the matter is that Babe Ruth and Ted Williams aren’t in the game anymore. Baseball statistics are so much more advanced and blown calls cost games. The sooner we realize that expanded replay is a good thing, the sooner this great game gets even better.
Ray Waldron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org