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Is Expanded Instant Replay Helping the Game of Baseball?
MLB Instant Replay
Blown call in a pennant race
Early one morning in July 2011, in a game that had started the night before, a call on a play at the plate changed the course of history for baseball and expanded replay. Braves utility player Julio Lugo was called safe on play at the plate to end that ballgame, because home plate umpire Jerry Meals thought the catcher had missed the tag. After the game, Meals admitted to seeing replays that showed he made the wrong call on the play, but the call stood as it was made on the field. Having a game decided by a call that was incorrect according to the rules of baseball, did not sit well with the fans, owners or players. After this play happened, there was an outcry for expanded replay in the game of baseball and the owners obliged this offseason when they address the topic at the owner's meeting. They came to the decision that baseball would have expanded replay for the 2014 season, but as of right now there is a limitation to what can be reviewed. The process of making expanded replay a part of the game of baseball, has been somewhat tedious, but over time it could get smoother.
What is reviewable?
According to mlb.com's replay review regulations, the first call that is reviewable is on potential homeruns, but this call is not able to be challenged by a manager. Fair or foul and homerun or double, along with reviews for fan interference are always by request of the crew chief that is umpiring the game. Now the new rules for plays that are challengeable by team managers are on plays involving a force play or tag play at any base. The in the neighborhood play at second base is not challengeable based on the umpires discretion, to protect middle infielders trying to turn double plays, but a throw that takes them off the bag is a challengeable play. Fair or foul calls on balls hit down the line are also challengeable to see if an out could have been recorded or if the ball is fair resulting in a base hit down the line. Catch or trap calls are challengeable in the outfield, along with hit by pitch calls or foul balls off the part of the bat near the hands. Base running plays can be challenged as well, to see if a runner scored before a tag play that was the third out of an inning. With all of these plays now able to be challenged, less mistakes are not corrected as far as officiating calls on the field.
Are these replays helping the game of baseball?
Early on in the process of introducing fans to expanded replay in baseball, there have been complaints about replay being a waste of time or being ineffective. While managers may still need to gain a better feel on what plays to challenge and when to play on, having the luxury of being able to challenge a play is something that baseball teams, along with their fans should value. By getting the highest number of calls correct, replay allows the game of baseball to be a better product than it was before expanded replay. While not every bad call has been the deciding factor in a baseball game, when they are able to be eliminated the game becomes better, because each team has an equal chance of winning throughout based on how well they play. The time that replay takes will only get quicker as the process improves with repetition, so overall the expansion of replay in baseball has changed the game for the better. Replay forces the quality of the game to improve, because if players get sloppy with the way they go about things, replay may show that they did not make a play that they should have. With replay in place, the amount of effort on the field for any given play has to be a 100 percent effort to make the play.
Should replay be expanded even further than it is now?
Some baseball fans and sports talk radio hosts have thrown out the idea of getting rid of home plate umpires, and using electronic strike zones. While this is not use of instant replay, it is where the expansion of replay could eventually lead. Getting rid of home plate umpires is not a good idea though, because it would take away two very important deception factors in the game of baseball. Pitch framing and pitchers throwing backdoor or front-door pitches for called strikes, are key factors and skills possessed by veteran pitchers and catchers. Going to an electronic strike zone, would take away any gamesmanship by a batter, pitcher or catcher that allows them to influence the umpire into calling a certain pitch a strike or ball. This is part of what makes the game of baseball interesting, as the fans are able to see great competitors on the field give their all to gain an edge over their opponent. Beyond this however, there is very little need for further expansion of replay. Moving forward with the current system in place for a while, is probably the ideal situation for Major League Baseball.
With the expansion of instant replay use in Major League Baseball, it now becomes less likely that a blown call will decide a key game during a pennant race. Umpires now have something to help them to get most of the calls right on the field, and the calls that stand without being confirmed, are usually the right call anyway. The quality of the product shown to the fans now improves because the calls are now more often correct, along with players having to give more effort in order to make sure that the play made, can't be overturned on further review. Ultimately the review process will get smoother with experience, and the overall quality of the game will improve for baseball as it did when replay was introduced in the National Football League.
Below is a video that shows the recent plays that prompted baseball to adopt instant replay.