The multi-headed hydra of MLB owners, players, and umpires have accomplished something rare. For what is hoped for the betterment of the game, the three parties are in full agreement, approving expanded instant replay. MLB's new replay rules now go into full effect for the coming 2014 season.
The owners had approved the implementation of expanded replay in August 2013. But for the new rules to go into effect for the coming season, it required approval of both the MLBPA and umpire's union. With all three in lock-step as of today, we are entering a brave new world which hopes to minimize the effect of Commissioner Bud Selig's beloved "human element" on the game of baseball.
Starting this season, each manager will begin a game with one challenge to use. To initiate review, the manager will need to inform the umpire of his intent to challenge in what is being termed a "timely manner." In the words of MLB, the challenge may involve multiple portions of the same play, but each must be specified during the appeal.
If the manager's challenge is upheld, he retains the challenge. But managers will be limited to no more than two challenges per game. In the top of the seventh, the umpire crew chief will be able to institute review, much as they do in the NFL after the two-minute warning. If a manager uses his two challenges before the seventh inning, he has no recourse but to go with the umpire's on-field ruling.
All contested plays will be not be reviewed on-site, but at Major League Baseball Advanced Media headquarters in New York City. The decision out of New York will be final. MLB will hire two more four-man umpiring crews, which will allow each team to rotate the job of replay review.
Much like the NFL, teams are allowed to have someone reviewing video and have the ability to contact the manager, as long as both teams have access to the same feed. Camera angles will be standardized throughout baseball.
Previously, the rules allowed replay only on home run calls, at the discretion of the umping crew. With expanded replay, plays which can be reviewed have been greatly increased, including:
- Home runs
- Ground-rule doubles
- Fan interference
- Boundary calls
- Plays at first base
- Force plays
- Tag plays
- Fair-foul and trap plays in the outfield
- Hit by pitch
- Timing plays
- Touching base
- Passing runners on the base paths.
- Any dispute involving ball-strike counts, outs, score or substitutions.
All other plays, including interference, obstruction and the 'neighborhood' call on double plays are not considered to be reviewable.
Of interest is that fans in attendance will get to watch exactly what is being reviewed. The new rule allows ballparks to show the same replays on their stadium video screens as those the umpires get to see.
Each of the three groups involved in the approval of the new rules gave a positive spin.
Ex-Tiger Tony Clark, executive director of the player's union:
''The players look forward to the expanded use of replay this season, and they will monitor closely its effects on the game before negotiating over its use in future seasons."
Brian Lam, lawyer for the World Umpires Association:
''For some, the discussions regarding expanded replay appeared to move too slowly, too deliberately. 'But there were technical and operational challenges that needed to be addressed, and that took time. With so many competing interests and opinions, it is unlikely that all will be completely pleased at the end of the day, but that's often the nature of things.''
John Schuerholz, President of the Atlanta Braves:
''It's the first time in the history of the game that a manager has the opportunity to change the call of a play that may have adversarily affected their team, 'that may have cost them the game, that may have cost them the division, that may have cost them a World Series.''
Hall of Fame managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, along with Schuerholz, will make up baseball's replay committee.
Agree or disagree, regardless of whether you believe it will eliminate unnecessary manager histrionics or only serve to needlessly extend games, bring baseball into the 21st century or give it too much of an NFL vibe, ensure the correct call will be made or eliminate part of the game's charm, it appears instant replay is here to stay in MLB.