MLB Instant Replay: I Luv U, Do You Luv Me?

Yesterday, it took Los Angeles Dodgers manager Clint Hurdle Don Mattingly* approximately 40 seconds — depending on where you start and stop your timer — to argue The Worst Call of the Season. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, it took the umpiring crew about 2 minutes and 50 seconds to gather in the infield, discuss Carlos Beltran‘s hit, reconvene in their underground video review chamber, and then return to announce a home run.

* All white guys look the same to me.

Getting the calls wrong in baseball takes time. Managers — depending on their personality, the game situation, and the offense — take different amounts of time arguing both bad and good calls. The arguing, for the most part, exists because of uncertainty. My lip-reading skills inform me most arguments follow this general pattern:

Manager: “Did you really see X event?”

Umpire: “Most certainly did I see X event.”

Manager: “That statement you just made right there is tantamount to the excrement of bovines.”

Umpire: “You are ejected.”

Recent evidence suggests, however, that despite these conflicts resulting from close calls, instant replays still take more time than good ol’ fashioned shout-spittin’ matches.

Evidence furthermore suggests that in the time it takes to get in a healthy workout, a normal person could empty approximately ten Squeeze Cheese cans directly into his or her porcine gullet.

Which is to say: Quicker is not always better.

On Tuesday night, Jeff Francoeur hit a towering fly ball to left center field. The ball bounced off the top of the wall, and then Austin Jackson snared it before it could pop over for a home run. The ruling was a ground rule double, but some confusion from the umpires led to a conference with Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland. The break in play lasted about 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

It appears the umpiring crew got the call right here, but had it gone to replay, the umpires would have still needed to explain the situation and results to Leyland, meaning the whole event could have pushed 3 minutes.

On April 25th, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny got ejected in the 10th inning after arguing — correctly — that CF Tony Campana had been tagged out in a steal attempt. The tirade and toss required only 30 seconds.

On April 8, Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants hit the showers after arguing — wrongly — that C Buster Posey kept his foot on home plate in a base-loaded force play attempt. Bochy left the dugout twice during the fiasco, but despite that, it still only took 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

The average instant replay in the NFL is approximately 3 minutes. The rulebook states the referees have only 60 seconds to review a play, but after discussing with the coaches, trotting to the sidelines, watching the film, trotting back to the middle of the field, announcing the result — dramatically — to the crowd, and then explaining the results one more time to the coaches, the refs easily consume three minutes or more.

It’s little wonder then that the NFL is struggling so mightily to fill stadiu–

Oh, I’m sorry. I think I’ve got that wrong. Yeah, never mind. I had my charts upside-down. Apparently the NFL broke the viewership record with their most recent Super Bowl. The all-time viewership record, whether sporting event, M*A*S*H finale, or nay. But we hate when the games take to long, right? When I entertain myself, I absolutely cannot stand when it takes longer than anticipated! I can enjoy myself only so long before I feel the itch, before I need to go to sleep or begrudgingly return to a shuffling life of tiresome work! Right?

Last night’s no-hitter from Jered Weaver lasted under 160 minutes, and the Phillies-Braves 15-13 slugfest took almost exactly 240 minutes for Chipper Jones to say, “I’m not retired yet,” and clobber a 3-2 pitch into center field. The average MLB game takes around 175 to 190 minutes — by my educated estimation — largely depending on the game’s score and whether or not it goes into extra innings or has a lot of pitching changes.

In 2010, NFL games averaged 1.4 instant replays per game. The average NFL game lasts around 185 minutes, yet they expanded instant replay in 2011 to cover every scoring play and have just recently expanded it again to cover every turnover. Now NFL coaches can pretty much only argue about penalties. Nothing else is unreviewable, and much of the game is automatically reviewed now.

According to my incredibly scientific chart — and you can tell by the amount of gray used — NFL fans seemed to change the candor, not the quantity of their complaining since the institution and expansion of instant replay:

When there was no replay in the NFL, fans complained that there was no replay. When they added it, they complained — especially when their team was on the bring of losing a replay challenge — that replays took too long and undermined the game (they then watched the rest of the game). When the NFL expanded replay last year, the fans complained no more or less. The amount of replays practically quadrupled overnight, but because the NFL used a smart system of automatic reviewing, in which an official in the booth reviews the video and then alerts the head referee on the field whether or not he needs to review the play proper, the replays did not add any significant time to the game. Or at least fans did not mind the replay addition BECAUSE THEY LIKE TO WATCH FOOTBALL AND THEY WILL WATCH IT ANYWAY.

The MLB could easily institute a similar system — putting an umpire in the booth. By the time the manager trots out to the home plate umpire, the umpire will have already received a text message from the reviewer — smiley face for good call, frowny face for Review Time. The manager would have little to say: “Hey… What’s up?” The end.

Will expanding instant replay make games quicker? Almost certainly: No.

But if we are really that desperate to make our recreation time go faster, I bet we could knock out these games in 30 minutes if we play to 3 innings and call every pitch a strike. Hell, if we are in a big rush, we could just run some computer simulations and call it day! Or, if we’re feeling frisky, maybe we could enforce the 12 second rule (8.04) that’s already on the books. Pitchers are supposed to hurl to home in 12 seconds, but last night, it took Joel Peralta over 40 seconds — from the moment he caught the ball to the moment he threw it — to twirl his final pitch. It was great for drama, bad for expediency. (The quickest of all teams right now, the Cleveland Indians, have a 19.9-second pace — that’s illegal by only 7.9 seconds! Way to go, Cleveland!*)

* Yes, I realize that rule regards a bases-empty situation and the pace numbers include all base-out states. But are you really going to argue that pitchers are taking less than 12 seconds to pitch? Really?

Will expanding instant replay make games more accurate, records more true, results more honest, ejections more infrequent? Undeniably yes. The NFL, with its 1.4 replays per game, adds about 5 minutes to their already 180 minute broadcast. That’s an increase of 2.8% for the sake of a correct call and outcome.

If the result of these calls matter so little that the game cannot be extended by, say — at worst — 15 minutes (that’s 3 to 4 MLB reviews), then why are we keeping score anyway? Why not just play for the heck of it? That would reduce the time lost due to arguing, and viewership might plummet — because if a league cannot take itself seriously, who will? — but we will still have our precious time.

There are obstacles to instituting wider replays in the MLB. But time should not be one of them.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


71 Responses to “MLB Instant Replay: I Luv U, Do You Luv Me?”

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  1. Cream says:

    Colorado Rockies Manager Clint Hurdle
    ????

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  2. LeeTro says:

    It was Mattingly, not Hurdle, arguing.

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    • Rice Cube says:

      Mattingly was the Dodgers’ manager and was in fact arguing because the Dodgers got screwed on that call.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      And Mattingly is the Dodgers’ manager, not the Rockies’.

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    • Anonymous says:

      An amusing coincidence, as Hurdle got tossed last night for arguing with Angel Campos, who isn’t fit to call balls and strikes for a Little League game.

      You want to talk about bad calls. Calling a batter out on a foul tip, not because you saw it, not because you heard it, but because Yadier Molina told you the batter tipped it, has to rank up there.

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  3. philosofool says:

    I think it is extremely important to emphasize that you can limit reviewto 30 second reviews. There’s no reason to require that every review take full and perfect account of all available evidence. Instead, we can have a replay system the gets 30 seconds to review the available footage. If that’s not enough to over turn the call on the field, just let it stand. Something like 80-90% of all inaccurate calls will be fixed this way, and all truly bad calls will be.

    That’s enough. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.

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    • Jason B says:

      Or, you can review all available evidence in, say, 90 seconds, and get like 99% of the calls right. (We still see some NFL replays ruled incorrectly from time to time, so it will never be 100%.)

      Why limit it to 30 seconds when the game takes a leisurely 2.5 hours anyway? Don’t let the expedient be the enemy of near-perfection.

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  4. cass says:

    If MLB does something to shorten the time in between innings, then perhaps we can start talking about expanding replay. Otherwise, please no.

    http://morganensberg.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/bud-selig-should-tell-you-the-truth-about-pace-of-game/

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  5. Synovia says:

    “The average instant replay in the NFL is approximately 3 minutes. ”

    The average NFL replay is judging on something that is about 500 times as complex as the average MLB replay would be.

    And the NFL replay system is kind of a dumb system. Eventually they (and MLB) are going to end up with a replay official in the booth, instead of having someone trot under a hood.

    +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Agreed on all counts.

      Also, the NFL replays have much more pageantry — taking time to announce the penalty to the crowd. MLB umpires just point or twirl their hands in the air.

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      Agreed…college football does this well. Some reviews only take about 30 seconds. I hope other sports follow their model.

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      • payroll says:

        How about tennis? The replay gets shown on the big board, everyone in the place watches it along with the line umpires, and the umpire doesn’t even need to signal because everyone in the building learns at the exact same moment whether the ball was in or out. The applause (or lack thereof) tells the viewer what the ruling is.

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  6. Bob Boberson says:

    I don’t really understand why instant replay in MLB is always compared to the NFL. Now, I know that to some hockey doesn’t exist, but instant replay in the NHL works fantastically. There’s a “control room” in Toronto that’s watching every single game. When there’s a disputed call, the control room buzzes the refs to stop the game, then calls them with the result.

    The NFL’s silliness is in asking the refs on the field to make the call. We can do replay MUCH quicker if there are people in comfy rooms watching replays from any number of angles. Obviously the umpires union will crow about their diminished relevance, but they would still be relevant if they just made the original calls correctly.

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    • The purpose here of looking at the NFL is to observe simultaneously that (a) another league can and does review almost everything and (b) they are wildly rich beyond their dreams despite doing so.

      The NHL — and even the NBA — do reviews better than the NFL, but no one can beat the NFL on point (b).

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    • JG says:

      Agree 100%. The NHL has it right. Baseball is by far the worst, with all 4 umpires leaving the field and then upholding/overturning the call with no explanation whatsoever. At least the NFL – whose system is overall decent, but flawed – has the courtesy to actually explain what the heck happened. I understand the sensitivity to the on-field guys to a point; they probably get the calls right 99% of the time and I don’t think the umpiring/refereeing now is any worse than it used to be; rather, there’s just way, way more scrutiny than there ever was before. (If this happened before the proliferation of internet clips, the majority of us would never have known about the Welke call.) But I can’t understand for the life of me why the umpires would rather get the call wrong – and have themselves in the spotlight for that – than have a wrong call overturned. Don’t you think Jim Joyce would love to not have “blew call in near-perfect game” in his bio?

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  7. siggian says:

    I’m pretty sure it would be the excrement of equines, not bovines.

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    • siggian says:

      But then that’s old fashioned language, which is entirely appropriate for the old fashioned resistance to technology.

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    • I’ve seen managers yawp both “Equine excrement!” and “Bovine excrement!” during games, so it appears to be just a matter of taste and upbringing and perhaps social standing.

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      • siggian says:

        For some unknown reason, initially I though bovine -> female of the species which naturally enough didn’t sound correct. It’s only after I hit Post that I realized that it was the male of the species. There’s no edit or delete button.

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      • Cliff says:

        bovine = cow/bull, equine = horse

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      • Jason B says:

        “it appears to be just a matter of taste and upbringing…”

        I would venture a guess that both probably taste equally bad.

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  8. JtheExploder says:

    Baseball should just utilize the MacCAM system that is used in tennis and cricket.

    Foul/fair calls are ruled instantly, and any forc outs or tags would be simple to rule.

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  9. Cream says:

    “All white guys look the same to me.”

    Clint Hurdle is more of a crimson, or purple if he’s yelling.

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  10. tylersnotes says:

    the assumption that game times should be shorter is hinged on the belief that it is in the financial interest of the MLB to have shorter average game times. TV contracts make up the major revenue stream for teams. If you want to make a case for replays it needs to be in some part based on financial success. While replays will make games longer, they will also provide more opportunity for advertisements. The financial implications may be more or less a wash. Even if we assume game time expands by 15 minutes on average, that’s only eating into post-game show time, really. The stations still need to block out the same broadcast window for each game.

    It is still in the MLB’s interest to keep game time short, but it is equally in their interest to provide opportunity for commercials. The value of a commercial in-game is almost certainly greater than the value of a post-game show commercial. I’d be interested to know if the financial impact has been studied for other sports, and how that plays out

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  11. Cass says:

    I really can’t comprehend the argument that game speed is a reason why replay shouldn’t be done. There are plenty of things that slow the game down–from mandatory, long commercial breaks between half-innings to non-use of the 12-second rule to batters stepping out of the box repeatedly to good old fashioned offense–a heck of a lot more than the couple minutes it takes to handle a replay. Over a game of 150 pitches, for example, the fastest pitching staff in the league (using the author’s figures above) being limited to the 12 second rule would save almost 18 minutes. Trimming two commercial breaks down to the time needed to get the team on the field would save you more than the time of a replay in its current form right there (oh, but money). I don’t feel that games are too long, but if they are, why are we quibbling about shaving one or two or five minutes from a game that lasts two to three hours, instead of twenty minutes?

    And more than that, if replay were expanded, it would be entirely possible to have another official (perhaps a fifth umpire) responsible for being prepared to review calls as they come in, cutting the time further.

    I think this line of argumentation is a lightly-sketched logistical argument meant to cover, in circles where emotional arguments do not frequently fly, for the emotional argument I hear made most frequently–the “human element” and the “good old days”.

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  12. Ryan says:

    Most entertaining FG post I’ve read in awhile.

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  13. Steven says:

    Continuous review of all forces, tags, catch/trap, landed fair/foul, fielded fair/foul, and the more obscure black and white calls (HBP, ball hits player, fan touches ball, in batter’s box, etc) would add very little time because most of those plays, even when they’re close to begin with, are obvious the first time on slo-mo. It’s basically done in real time anyway on every broadcast. Alerting on a mistake or delaying for a few seconds to check all angles before giving the go-ahead is basically nothing.

    Alternatively, a challenge system (say 2 challenges that you keep until you challenge wrong, plus another challenge if it goes to extras) for the same black and white calls as above would add little time if done correctly (little league does this quickly FFS). Well, I guess it could add a lot of time if a game is a botchfest and managers keep winning challenges, but I don’t see the added time there as a problem.

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    • Synovia says:

      Challenge based systems are terrible in every sport that uses them.\

      There’s no reason a coach should have to ration his chances to get a correct call when the umpires are having a shitty day.

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      • Steven says:

        Ump in a booth reviewing every play is obviously better than challenges. Challenges for the field crew to look at are better than nothing and closer to what already exists for HRs.

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  14. Richie says:

    The NFL now goes to commercial when a challenge is made. And has for quite some time, now. Which means the next change of possession, the ref does not go to commercial, and the game instead continues on. So NFL replays have added very little time to their broadcasts.

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  15. Richie says:

    If MLB allowed you to challenge until you lost one in that game, and also penalized lost challenges at something like $1,000 per, to keep disgruntled managers from using up their challenge in a game that’s now lost anyways, replay would work.

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  16. RollTribe says:

    Why don’t we compare this to the NBA system? Official goes to screen, foot was on the line, referee signals 2 points. Inbound the ball.

    Why can’t the MLB do this? Go to the screen, ball hit above the wall. Signal home run. Next batter.

    This would take no more than 30 seconds. The NFL is a bad comparison, their replays are complicated, the NBA is more black and white like the MLB is.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      As long as everyone is OK with the umpires subjectively placing runners on bases after an overturned call I am OK with instant replay.

      Runner on 2nd base with one out. Fly ball to left center field. Runner heads towards third and eyes scoring as he thinks the ball won’t be caught. Left fielder dives, traps the ball but umpire signals a catch. Runner is one step away from third base at this point. Seeing the call the runner tries to scramble back to second base but is easily doubled up. The play is reviewed and overturned. The batter is awarded first base. Where do you put the runner who was on second base? He could’ve scored had an immediate safe been called on the non catch. He never did touch third base as he was a step away from it when he tried to head back to second. My point here is that umps will now have to play God in placing runners on bases after bad calls. Sure, it is a better situation than the one where the call is blown… but it is not so cut and dry as some people make it out to be.

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      • Slartibartfast says:

        Easy – the runner stays on second. There’s already precedent in place for this in baseball – the ground rule double. Runners are advanced only by “force”. End of story, no subjective umpire decision making needed.

        Try to come up with other scenarios, and I’m sure there are ways to address them written rules that don’t require the umps to make judgement calls on replacing runners.

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      • Tomrigid says:

        This is a “don’t let the prefect be the enemy of the god” moment. Baseball is lucky in that many, if not most, of the calls are more like goal-line touchdowns, double-zero jumpshots, or hockey goals than real judgement calls. Technology, whether sensors or cameras, makes those calls much better than humans alone, and the two together can be efficiently correct in almost every case.

        Start with the easy stuff: foul-line calls (the light goes on, or not), balls and strikes (give the umps real-time pitch-tracking overlays…yes they’ll be the functional equivalent of Vanna White, but they’ll still be employed and we’ll get the calls right), and anything else that doesn’t regularly invoke second-order results.

        For the knottier problems, do what the NFL does: sigh, admit that “mistakes were made,” and move on. We can follow the future but we can’t ever actually catch it.

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      • Nadingo says:

        “Easy – the runner stays on second. There’s already precedent in place for this in baseball – the ground rule double. Runners are advanced only by “force”. End of story, no subjective umpire decision making needed.”

        Uh, I don’t think your understanding of the ground rule double is correct. Batters are allowed to advance two bases, so a batter on 3rd would score, even though he’s not forced to do so by runners behind him. Other than that, I agree with your overall point.

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      • Ian R. says:

        In that case, let’s use the actual precedent of the ground rule double. If the batter is awarded 1st, all runners are allowed to advance one base. If he’s awarded 2nd, all runners advance two bases. It’s still imperfect, but better than the current system.

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      • Synovia says:

        “As long as everyone is OK with the umpires subjectively placing runners on bases after an overturned call I am OK with instant replay.”

        They already do that every time a ground-rule double is hit. They usually err on the conservative side, but they can basically place the runners wherever they want.

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      • Xeifrank says:

        wow, lots of ignorance on the ground rule double rule. Not sure I want people who don’t know the ground rule double rule making the instant replay rules.

        All runners advance two bases and umpires cannot subjectively let a runner score from first. Maybe on fan interference, but not on a traditional ground rule double that bounces over the wall.

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  17. Ira says:

    Time constraints are a bogus argument IMO. If MLB was actually concerned with the length of games it would seriously limit how many times a batter can step out of the box or the pitcher off the rubber.

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  18. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Have a review guy in the booth. Give the head ump a cell phone. Problem solved.

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  19. Stevesy says:

    Rugby has a fantastic and simple system with a ‘fourth official’ that is often turned to for scoring replays. Ump in a booth is coming to a stadium near you!

    And if you think baseball is stubborn, here in Britain they can’t stand the thought of adding replay to soccer, despite it being possibly the easiest implementation in the sporting world.

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  20. Steven says:

    The 12 second rule starts when the batter is in the box and ready to hit. I would argue that an incredible majority of the time it takes under 12 seconds between batter ready and pitch delivered.

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  21. badenjr says:

    Novel idea. You’ve got these really big screens in every stadium. Use them. Let the umps signal the video operator when they want a replay and let the fans see the same thing they see. They make a call, the fans cheer or boo, and everyone moves on.

    Of course, knowing MLB, they’d screw this up too. They’d determine that this was finally the time to get social media involved, and they’d let everyone vote (DWTS-style) on the call. The Yankees and Red Sox would each win 140 games. MLB would get rich and claim that we’re all so lucky to be living in an era with such outstanding teams. Everyone else would puke.

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  22. Nathan says:

    Another difference between arguments and replays is that arguments never change anything and replays do. So even though they take longer there is actually a point to a replay.

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  23. Preston says:

    It’s time to stop fooling around with intermediate options. Just make the switch. Put an umpire in a video booth and mike him up to all the other umps. Guys on the field make a call, he makes a call. If it’s the same, move on, if it’s different head ump watches tape, tie breaker, move on. And in all seriousness, let’s hire people who aren’t pig headed to do the job. Umpires don’t make the wrong calls because they are incompetent and blind. They make the wrong call because they didn’t see it, because they were out of position. Currently, when this happens, an ump pretends he saw it, because the alternative means a big waste of time. In this scenario he could just say, I didn’t catch that one and defer to the video ump. No time wasted, and fans and media wouldn’t even know he missed the call. It would take five seconds for him to say, didn’t catch that, the video ump to say out or safe, and him to make the call. Fans at home would still not agree with every call, but there would never be anything that was this blatantly wrong again.

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  24. MikeS says:

    Great article. Especially the graph.

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  25. Cozar says:

    I’d be willing to bet in the 40 seconds it took to argue the worst call of the year, a guy sitting next to the official scorer could have watched a replay and sent a radio signalt into the crew chief’s earpiece informing him that Hairston was safe.

    Just because it takes football 3 minutes doesn’t mean it has to take baseball that long.

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  26. MTUCache says:

    Excellent article. Excellent comments all around… I really don’t get what’s so difficult about this concept.

    The technology exists, and has for thirty years, for everyone else on the planet to figure out whether the umpire is wrong or not. Why is he the only one without the benefit of this?

    If it comes down to “watching an extra 10 minutes of baseball per night without having to watch imbecilic decisions impact the outcome” vs. “watching 10 less minutes of baseball per night, including a bunch of wrong decisions that impacted the outcome of the game, and then watching/listening to talking heads debate it for the next four hours”, I’ll take more live baseball please…

    The replays and debates are going to happen anyway, they have been since television replay was invented. Why shouldn’t the umpire get the benefit of those (in whatever fashion you happen to choose) so he isn’t forced to look like a moron?

    Instead actually getting to see my favorite team’s pitcher throw a perfect game, I get to hear about what a “great guy” Gallaraga is, and watch an umpire cry. Brilliant.

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  27. Fletcher Moore says:

    Every team should get an arbitrary number of replay reviews. Let’s say 20. For the whole season. They can be used for any old thing, at the discretion of the manager, but once they’re gone, they’re gone for the whole season. That way we’d get reviews for plays that really count, and we’d have an additional metric upon which to judge managers — how well they handle their store of reviews.

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    • MTUCache says:

      Why?

      What kinds of value judgments are we going to evaluate in order to determine that 20 is an appropriate number? Why not 15? Or 100? Simply by saying that the number is “arbitrary” acknowledges that it’s not been well thought-out or evaluated, doesn’t it?

      Unless the goal here is to increase the drama of games in the playoff hunt (by having an on-screen tracker of how many challenges they have left, ala football timeouts), it’s not really addressing any of the issues we’re talking about here.

      We don’t need another statistical category we can track and debate (okay… yes, we do), what we need is a good way to convince crotchety old people that things weren’t “just fine back in the good ol’ days”, and that having an umpire with poor eyesight and even poorer judgment isn’t just “part of the charm of the game”.

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  28. Dave Silverwood says:

    Instant replay another cause for the purist to dis-like Selig, who has done everything that he can to make the press and the tv networks happy—it’s baseball not football or pro wrestling.

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  29. Daven says:

    Along with instant replay they really desperately need to stop letting umpires call balls and strikes. The difference in odds of a player getting a hit and the like drastically changes given the count and umpires seem to get balls and strikes wrong a lot, so one would think nearly every single game played is probably changed in some way, possibly several times per game, based on umpires making the wrong call behind the plate. In that sense, I’d say it’s even more important to stop letting umps call balls and strikes than to institute instant replay, though obviously both would be preferred. But if I had to pick one, I’d go for no longer letting them call balls and strikes. I mean, they can make the actual call on the field, but it should be based on information instantly relayed to them.

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  30. JLuman says:

    outstanding graph.

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  31. adohaj says:

    But I enjoy blown calls and manager ejections

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  32. Antonio Bananas says:

    I’m not sure how this is even an issue.

    “it would fix mistakes and actually add integrity and crediblity to the game”
    “BUT WE WUD LOZE TEH HUMAN ELMEENTZ!!!”

    That’s how stupid an argument against it sounds. It makes no sense. Would you rather have the game (and realistically, it’s not like they’re looking at every play, so maybe once or twice a game if that) slowed down marginally for the best result or not slowed down and have blown calls?

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