Instant Replay: Does Major League Baseball need a timeout?

Gregory Shamus

With the great expansion of instant replay for the 2014 major league baseball season, much is said about saving time. Should baseball use timeouts to save time?

Major League Baseball has finally come out of the dark ages and is prepared to implement a system of instant replay for most calls, beginning with the 2014 season. But, of course, not everyone is happy with the proposed system.

There are those, like former Tiger manager Jim Leyland, who preferred the "human element" in the game. He’d rather have humans get the calls wrong than use technology to get the calls right. But Leyland is in the minority.

Goodbye human element: Instant replay expansion approved

There are others, perhaps most baseball observers, who don’t like the fact that the system being adopted will be an NFL style "challenge system" which will require managers to request a video review, rather than the NCAA style system where plays are automatically reviewed when necessary.

One very good thing about the system being adopted by MLB is that the video review will not be performed by the umpires who made the initial call. There will be no going down a tunnel, and no umpires going over to stick their heads under a canopy to review a play, then emerging to tell us that they were right all along. At least that part of the NFL system has been left on the sidelines.

The primary reason cited by MLB officials for not adopting the automatic review is that they don’t want too many delays. Managers will be limited to two appeals per game, so they won’t be just using appeals without consequences. If three bad calls go against them in the same game, too bad.

I do not favor the challenge system. I have seen college football games being unnecessarily delayed for review, but they generally don’t take long, and I think they have the best system among replay systems being used. If anything, waiting for a review of exciting scoring plays can be a buzz kill, but they get the calls right. At a minimum, managers should be allowed an unlimited number of successful appeals. Only limit frivolous appeals, as the NFL does.

For those truly concerned about delays, don’t worry. Reviewing plays will take less time than the current method that allows a manager to come out and argue, then umpires to have a confab, and on the rare occasion when a review was allowed, four men in blue march down a tunnel to look at a television, only to emerge 10 minutes later to tell us what millions of TV viewers already know. That’s all gone, and they’ll get the calls right, when they are reviewed.

If baseball is truly concerned about eliminating delays, then why not limit all types of delays. Trips to the mound by the manager, trips to the mound by the catcher, pitching changes, and the batter repeatedly stepping out of the box, as well as video reviews, are all actions that take time and cause the game to be delayed.

You know what I’m getting at here -- the headline is the punch line. Should baseball give each team a set number of timeouts to use per game? Make a trip to the mound -- that’s a timeout. Challenge a call and lose -- that’s a time out. Limits can be placed on all time-wasting events.

Maybe only some trips to the mound and some challenges will result in a time out being charged. Only bad challenges or trips without making a change could be charged as a timeout. There is already a limit of one non change visit per inning, but they are still the greatest delay causing event in the game.

When an NFL coach challenges a call, and the call is not reversed, he loses one timeout. When the appeal is sustained, no time out is charged. There should be no limit to the number of bad calls that a manager can challenge, in my view. But I don’t see the need for a manager to come out of the dugout for every pitching change, nor even to come out just to talk to a pitcher. Those things delay the game more than anything else.

No doubt, there will be further changes to the replay system used by major league baseball. As they get used to the system, yet some bad calls are not reviewable, there will be pressure to expand the types of plays that can be reviewed even further. Maybe the challenge system will be abandoned in favor of an automatic review. I won't get into whether certain plays, such as the "neighborhood play" should be reviewable here, but who knows what is in the future?

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of timeouts. I wish that the NHL never adopted the timeout (although one is no big deal), and I think that most good basketball games can be ruined by so many timeouts being called in the final minutes of a game. As stated above, I would not use a challenge system for baseball, either. But if they’re going to use that type of system, and the concern is taking too much time, then let’s address the real time wasters in the game.

There is a wide range of opinions on the subject of instant replay in baseball, and you won’t get a majority to agree on any one complete system. I suspect that the "delaying the game" argument is a red herring, used mostly by those who just don’t want replay. True instant replay does not cause delay, it saves time. So if you really want to save time, let’s call timeouts.

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