Baseball may be the sport most rooted in its traditions. Therefore, it should surprise no one that MLB was the last major sport to adopt instant replay. And not surprisingly, not everyone believes the current system improves the game.
Instant replay was first introduced in Major League Baseball in 2008. Initially, it was limited to reviewing home runs. But since an expanded version of instant replay was adopted in 2014, managers can ask umpires to review plays on the bases, trapped balls and virtually everything else with the exception of balls and strikes. Those who believe that the most important thing is to get every call right are even clamoring for “robot umps” behind the plate.
The replay procedure has a simple title, “Major League Baseball Replay Review Regulation.” Umpires have only three possible rulings on a challenged play: confirm, overturn, or, if there isn’t “clear evidence” to support or oppose the call on the field, the play stands. But that’s where the simplicity ends. The rule contains more than 8,500 words. To put that number in some perspective, there are more words in MLB’s replay rule than there are in the 39 books of the Old Testament. If you think that analogy is sacrilegious, think again. Section II(E)(1) of the replay rule governs the procedure if a replay is held during the playing of God Bless America.
MLB’s replay rule must have been drafted by an Ivy League lawyer, or perhaps a dozen, and it may take that many to interpret it. You’d think a rule that long would cover every conceivable possibility and be crystal clear on all possible outcomes. Of course, you’d be wrong. The rule consists of more gray than black and white; more suggestions, guidance, and interpretation than definitive conclusions.
One of the biggest criticisms of instant replay is that it delays the game and detracts from the product. But that criticism is based on perception, not reality. The game of baseball is all about delay, whether its players stepping out of the batter’s box, pitchers taking warm up throws, managers making pitching changes, conferences on the mound, etc. The third game of this year’s World Series took 3 hours and 33 minutes to play. You’d think a game that long would be a slugfest, yet the teams combined to score only a single run.
Three replay reviews totaling five minutes were included in the three and one-half hour game. That amounts to .016 percent - approximately one and one-half percent - of the entire time between the first and last pitch of the game. Considering the fact that 50% of replays are overturned, five minutes isn’t too much of a “delay” to get the calls correct, to make sure the right team wins.
A key fact often overlooked by critics of replay is that it prevents managers from running out of the dugout to argue calls with the umpires, which in all probability would have “delayed” the game even more.
Most managers are supportive of the rule, including the two in this year’s World Series, Terry Francona of Cleveland and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. Maddon in particular is a staunch proponent of instant replay. Responding to a postgame question regarding the three replays in game three, only one of which was overturned, Maddon said, “It definitely helps preventing the spike in the blood pressure, because you’re just able to ask them (the umpires) to replay it as opposed to running out there and arguing. So I like that component of it. There are certain parts about it that I think need to be addressed. I’d like to see some adjustments, but I think overall it’s wonderful.”
Maddon went on to say, “Furthermore, I would imagine eventually you’re going to see it call balls and strikes.” Oops. There’s another controversy over instant replay that is guaranteed to heat up in the coming years.
Atlanta Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz, the original chairman of MLB’s first replay committee, concedes that the system currently in place isn’t perfect. However, he maintains that “we have done what we hoped to do, and I think most people in baseball are happy we have instant replay in place.”
Those who disagree with Schuerholz should ask themselves this question: Is baseball better off with instant replay or without it?
Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.