8th Inning: Instant Replay

Mar 24, 2011, 1:12 AM | Updated: Apr 28, 2015, 2:00 pm

Editor’s Note: Doug believes baseball is broken and would like to fix it. He plans to discuss an issue a week for the coming weeks. Read here for the topics he plans to help baseball fix.

The greatest invention of my lifetime is clearly the garage door opener. I remember a time in my young life of watching my father run out in the rain to open the garage door and then run back to the car to pull it into the garage.

My opinion was further solidified seven years ago. While living in Kansas City, our garage door opener stopped working. It was blasphemy. Your entire life instantaneously reverts to a primeval sense of survival. The next step after a broken garage door opener is to kill your own food or become a nomad sheep herder.

The previous 7 innings to the Doug Franz Baseball Project have all been based on a theory baseball is behind the other sports. Although MLB has the most limited use of replay than any of the other major sports, they are not behind in this category. Using instant replay correctly is an individualized topic. Instant replay, itself, is great for all sports. However, the implementation of instant replay could kill different sports.

For an example, complete instant replay would be a disaster in hockey. Who would want to wait through every challenge of a hooking call? Instant replay to determine if the puck was kicked or completely cleared the goal line is a perfect use of the technology.

The huge dilemma for MLB is not should the game have instant replay—since it already does—but how should it be implemented. For the 8th inning, I’d like to present to you the second greatest idea of my lifetime: a simple plan to institute instant replay into the game of baseball.

In order for instant replay to be implemented into baseball, it has to be simple to use. Fans won’t accept a complicated system. Baseball is already struggling with a time problem. Instant replay must be accomplished in a timely fashion. Purists would never accept something that resembles the NFL. The system needs to be clean, concise and correct.

I propose baseball adds a fifth umpire to every crew. This is a regular, fully functioning field umpire. It is not some old man who has never refed/umped a game before. I want an ump who cares about getting it right but also understands the work it took for the ump on the field to make the call in the first place. In no way can my system slow down the game but I don’t want the replay umpire feeling pressured to speed up his analysis of the play.

Umpires rotate from base-to-base during a series. They actually go in opposite directions as the base runner. Next time you’re at a game, notice who the plate umpire is. Tomorrow, he’ll be the third base umpire. Umpires move clockwise around the bases during a series while players make left turns.

I want a five man squad because the replay booth will be no different than any other base. Instead of third, the home plate umpire rotates to the replay booth for the next game. The rotation continues around the bases like it always has. Now there’s a regular umpire who works the game every day and not just some hired hand or retired ump who can hide up in the same booth every game at one stadium.

The implementation is very simple. Balls and strikes as called pitches are not reviewable. Everything else is. There are no challenges. Check swings, foul balls, missed bases by the runners, home runs, name a play, it’s reviewed. The most important aspect to my instant replay plan is the time allotted to allow for replay. There isn’t any.

As soon as a play ends, the fifth umpire immediately begins to review the play. If he can determine before the next pitch that the wrong call was made, he signals the home plate umpire to change the call. There’s no delay for an umpire to run across the field to look at a monitor. There’s never a reason for long umpire deliberations. If the next pitch takes place, the review is over and the game continues.

Obviously, players and managers might do anything to stall to give the replay umpire more time but that’s easily correctable. If a manager comes out to argue, the replay is immediately ended. If he wants to tell the ump he’s blind on that call and kick dirt, he can do it all he wants but now the call stands. Players who step out of the box or pitchers who are stalling can already be charged a ball or strike by the home plate umpire. They will have a more liberal use of this rule in order to ensure the integrity of game speed. It’s the greatest review system in sports because there’s no waiting. It would never slow a game down unless the call is wrong and the base runners are reset.

Some replay proponents and opponents are worried about the continuous flow even during the play. In the “what if” category of a wrong call before a correct call, such as a player who is called safe and is actually out, where do the other runners go?

Here’s the scenario brought up that seems to kill replay. Runner on first. Soft liner is ruled caught. Runner on first was stealing. He runs back to first is tagged out going back to tag up? If replay ruled the catch was not a catch but a trap, is the base runner still out since he was tagged or is it assumed it was the bad call that put him in the tough position? What if it was trapped by an infielder? If it was ruled correctly on the field, the fielder might have thrown it to first to force the batter and the runner would have been safe at second since he was stealing.

To that I say, really? Are there not enough smart people in baseball to come up with solutions to most scenarios. If the best way to fix the bad call is to do nothing, I’m fine with that. Opponents will go nuts and say, “Then why have replay if you can’t even use it.” Again, really? If the umps get 98% of all calls correct and replay will help bring it to 95.5%, I’ll give up the 0.5% of all calls made during a baseball season that are incorrect by the umpire on the field but the error leads to a series of events that can’t be overturned by the replay umpire.

If you’re not with me on using a fifth umpire in baseball, let me ask you one question. Let’s say a pitcher has thrown a perfect game for 8 2/3. On the 27th at bat of the game the batter hits a grounder to the 1st baseman. The 1st baseman fields, flips to the pitcher who steps on the bag in a bang-bang play. The pitcher beats the batter to the bag but the 1st base umpire says “safe.” If the umpire missed the call and blew the chance for that pitcher, wouldn’t it be great if one signal from the replay umpire made it all go away?

Penguin Air

Doug Franz

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