Slow-to-change MLB finally moving on expanded replay

Posted Sunday, May. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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When it comes to making a change in Major League Baseball, the process moves about as quickly as a Molina brother.

Don’t blame only Commissioner Bud Selig, who at age 78 adapts to change about as well as any other senior citizen. And change is a complicated thing at 245 Park in Manhattan.

First off, there has to be a committee. MLB forms a committee just to see if it’s OK to use the bathroom.

Of course, the MLB Players Association and its lawyers and MLB’s lawyers are involved in every decision. And then there are the club owners, who want to make sure that the expense of a proposed change won’t knock them off the World’s Richest People list.

No wonder instant replay is still in its infancy, especially when another group, the World Umpires Association, has to be taken into consideration.

So, word from executive vice president Joe Torre on Thursday at the owners meetings that replay will be expanded in time for next season should rate as a surprise. MLB has put replay on a fast track as umpires continue to miss seemingly obvious calls.

The sudden agenda feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the Angel Hernandez review debacle May 8 at Cleveland, and maybe it is. But the light should have gone on long ago.

Something needs to be done. It’s been that way for years, not days.

“It’s a good thing,” Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “It could definitely help the game on certain plays if we make sure the league and the umpires get the call right.”

To that end, language was written into the current collective bargaining agreement for replay to expand to include trapped balls in the outfield, fan interference, and fair or foul calls down the lines.

Disputed home runs have been reviewable since August 2008.

The task facing the subcommittee of three — Torre, former manager Tony La Russa and Atlanta president John Schuerholz — is how to expand the current replay system without drastically affecting the length and rhythm of a game.

That’s the primary concern for players, who say games are already long enough. There has to be a limit on the number of calls that can be reviewed each game, as well as which calls can be reviewed.

“If they do decide to go forward, it’s got to be a quicker process,” Rangers closer Joe Nathan said. “There’s a potential to review a play an inning. We’re already averaging three-hour games. How long are we going to be out here sitting around?”

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Any close play at the plate should be reviewed. The same goes for any close play that ends a game and isn’t a strike call. So, Tampa Bay Rays fans, the strike that resulted in Joe Nathan’s 300th save wouldn’t be reviewed.

An in-house replay umpire would have the discretion to stop the game on any horrible call, like the one last season when Colorado first baseman Todd Helton caught a throw two feet off the bag but got the out anyway.

The technology is available to cover all of them.

MLB experimented last year with the Hawk-Eye system used in tennis matches. There is never a shortage of TV angles or playback speeds to review, which makes Hernandez’s foul-up 11 days ago inexcusable.

“We’re not going to send something out there just to meet a deadline as opposed to trying to get the best possible way to do this,” Torre said.

Ask some players, though, and they aren’t concerned about calls on the base paths or down the lines.

Balls and strikes? Not so much.

“There really are four or five close calls in a game, and the umpires get them right more often than not,” Kinsler said. “They get blown up if they’re wrong, but they do a very good job. Where they stink is balls and strikes, but it’s a tough job.”

Pitches, though, should never be reviewed. Every pitch in an at-bat might be missed, so a three-hour game just turned into a three-day game.

There’s no good solution. Umpires don’t particularly care for the K Zone technology, and being replaced by a ball-strike-calling machine isn’t going to fly with them or their union.

There’s no need to open that can of worms. Expanding replay beyond what’s in place now is opening a big enough can.

“It’s just going to be a matter of what they’re trying to get reviewed,” Nathan said. “You can’t review every single play. It’s such a touchy situation because you have so many close plays at the bag.

“For me, personally, you want to see the right call made, but this game has never been about being perfect. Sometimes they go for you. Sometimes they go against you. When do you draw the line?”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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