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The unintended consequences of the proposed replay system

Baseball is proposing a challenge system for replays. This copy cat idea will lead to trouble.

Jim Leyland argues a call on July 28, 2013
Jim Leyland argues a call on July 28, 2013
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Al provided an update on the status of instant replay.  This move by Major League Baseball is a tentative step forward.  However there are potentially a number of unintended consequences.

Let's say you are Jim Leyland and there is a bang-bang play at first.  They called Torii Hunter out, and Miguel Cabrera is up next.  Since Miguel has a significant chance at a homerun, you will likely challenge the call.  But what if there are two outs in the second inning of an interleague game, Jose Iglesias is called out, and Justin Verlander is on deck?  You probably let it go, because you may need the challenge in the fifth inning.  So now getting the call right has become situational.  This sets a poor precedent for baseball.

But maybe you are not sure about that play with Torii Hunter.  Your angle was bad, you were screened as Gene LaMont walked by, or your eyes are not as sharp as they used to be.  You want a second opinion.  You can ask the other guys on the bench, but what you really want is to see the video before deciding to challenge.  Communication to and from the dugout is very restricted currently to prevent cheating such as by stealing signs.  But it will be very tempting to have someone you trust watching the live feed of the game, and somehow letting you know that you will likely win a challenge.  Harold Reynolds suggested that the guy watching the game in the game in the clubhouse, who can yell down the tunnel "challenge", suddenly becomes an important part of the game.

But the video that the intern sees may not be the same angle that the umpires see.  They are considering installing separate cameras in each stadium to provide the video for the umpires.  This can provide consistency, and potentially better angles.  But it is not what the folks at home see.  So now we may have a situation where the umpires get the call right, but the fans are even more upset wondering how the umpires could possibly have made that call given the replay they are watching.  But they are watching different replays, from different angles.  From one angle, the batter was out at first.  From another, the ball was slightly bobbled in the first basemen's mitt.  If the umpires and fans are not watching the same video, this could blow up.

But let's say the intern in the clubhouse decided to get himself a pop and missed the play.  No worries, the live feed of the game will show some replays.  But the next batter is walking to the plate.  Do you tell him to stall?  Does he struggle to get the donut off the bat, or tie his shoe, so you can get a more reliable opinion on whether to challenge?

Perhaps you are managing a game that is going along without controversy.  But the prior two games had a number of calls go against you, and you are still upset with the umpires.  It is the sixth inning and there is a close call.  You do not really think they got it wrong, but your first challenge is about to expire.  So do you challenge the call anyway, just to get under the umpire's skin?  And does it happen again in the ninth inning when another challenge will expire?  The fans want to see that you are trying, so you will be tempted.

And when your team is really struggling, the fans want to see you throw a tantrum.  Every once in a while a manager needs to go all Earl Weaver on an ump to motivate his listless team.  Well if close plays are being decided by an umpire in another state, does this still happen?  Will a manager blow his challenges on routine plays just to get into a situation where he is out of challenges and can go on the field for a performance?  It would be a shame if we lose more moments like Phil Wellman's classic.

Teams take varying approaches to down time during games.  Some use all kinds of minor league gimmicks to create fan interest.  Others, typically with better performing teams, focus on the game.  They may ask a baseball-related trivia question between innings, or play some music.  Are we going to be subjected to more Kiss Cam because of challenges?

Baseball renews with each generation.  Kids play in the yard and imitate their heroes.  How exactly does the replay system work into a game of wiffle ball?  Will that lessen interest by the next generation of fans?

Baseball has often led, whether among sports or the culture.  Baseball's testing and suspensions for PEDs are the strictest of the major sports.  Baseball integrated with Jackie Robinson in 1947, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and seventeen years before the Civil Rights Act.  Why is baseball now following football and hockey, rather than providing a more creative solution to the problem?  This approach will simply lead to different controversies.  How about a better idea?