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Sports

January 22, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: Writer becomes switch-hitter on subject of instant replay

OPINION — OK…maybe I’ve changed my mind.

As recently as last August, this column blasted the idea of expanded instant replay in Major League Baseball. Over the years, the column has railed against anything that takes away the human element.

Just as we accept errors from players, we must take umpires’ mistakes, too.

Besides, we’ve seen enough mistakes in the current system used to determine questionable home run. And some of the missed calls have been obvious to all except those making the call.

But I’m willing to give instant replay a chance. All 30 major-league clubs voted in support, and last week both the players’ association and the umpires’ union signed on. In addition several of the original proposals from last summer have been eliminated.

Under the new system to be implemented this season, approximately 90 percent of plays will be subject to review, according to MLB.com: ground-rule doubles, fair/foul calls and trap plays in the outfield, fan interference, force plays (excluding the second base “neighborhood play,” made to protect middle infielders), tag plays, hit batsmen, base touching, passing runners, ballpark boundary calls, players scoring before a third out, and in-game statistics such as ball-strike counts, outs, and the score.

Home runs are still not challengeable, but they can be reviewed if the crew chief agrees, as is done now.

Teams are allowed to have a “video specialist” to alert managers if the umpire’s original call is wrong. Managers will have one challenge during each game. If the challenged play is overturned, the manager gets a second challenge.

If it's after the beginning of the seventh inning and a manager is out of challenges, a crew chief can still decide to go to replay in a situation that calls for it, although he is not obliged to do so just because a manager asks.

A manager will also be allowed to argue a call before deciding to challenge.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was ejected an MLB-leading six times last season and commented that each of his six boots came from calls that are now reviewable.

Hurdle told MLB.com that he thinks the new replay process will cut down on ejections and “probably save me money.”

He also thinks that replays will not lengthen games, but speed them up. “Not only will we now have a means for getting those calls right, but also for keeping the game moving along better and keeping managers in the game. …[Y]ou can still go out there and argue, but at some point…the umpires will say, 'Are you done yelling? You want a review?' And that's a great thing."

Under the process, all replays will be done by major-league umpires located inside a “Replay Command Center” in New York City. The game umpires won't even have to leave the field.

The reviewing umpires will communicate their verdict to the field umpires through a system located near home plate. The decision of the reviewing umpires is final. No one can argue.

That fact should also diffuse any fan nastiness, since they will know that the final decision is being made by no one in the stadium.

Also, teams will not be permitted to show replays of any close play on the stadium’s video board, breaking their long-time bans on bang-bang calls that infuriated fans at the park, realizing that people watching in private boxes, restaurants and bars, and at home could watch the broadcast’s myriad replays. Again, knowing that the final verdict is not under the control of anyone at the park should remove any animosity against the field umpires.

All parties acknowledge that the 2014 version of replays won’t be the final model.

If I’m willing to reserve judgment, baseball should be willing to eliminate the most controversial calls of all — balls and strikes. Every park already is fitted with a strike-ball zone grid that shows the accuracy of the umpires’ calls.

Using the available technology can accurately ensure the correct call literally on every pitch.

And after all, isn’t that the justification for all replay?

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for the Allied News.

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