The MLB Replay System Is Broken, But It Can Be Fixed

The purpose of replay in baseball is a simple one: making sure that the call on the field is correct. Of course, since it’s major league baseball, it’s not easy. The manager must choose which replay to review, and he must then decide whether to use his only challenge in hopes that the call can be reversed (unless it’s the All-Star games or the playoffs in which the manager gets two challenges, or unless the umpires themselves decide to review a play). If the manager loses his challenge, then his team has no more challenges for the game.

The replays are reviewed from a central location in New York, with the umpires communicating by radio with the replay official. It’s the replay official who decides whether or not to overturn the call on the field. The official can let the call stand, overturn it, or determine that there’s not evidence to overrule the umpire’s original call. It’s complicated and, increasingly, more and more major league managers are expressing their displeasure with how the system is operating.

Detroit’s Brad Ausmus believes things have regressed to pre-replay times, and that the replay officials are deferring too much to much the umpire on the field. Angels manager Mike Scioscia wants to know what the exact standards are that are being used to interpret replays, and states that what is, and what is not an reversible call changes from game to game. And Chicago’s Joe Maddon thinks there should be people independent of the umpires who are making the actual calls.

“It just screams for an independent group there to really research the video,” Maddon told the Chicago Tribune last week. “That’s what I think it screams, for as opposed to working umpires who are actually on the field. I think you should get a bunch of nerds back there who know how to look at a videotape, and then come to a conclusion. I think it would be more interesting that way.”

The purpose of replay might be to get the call right, but it increasingly seems like the reality is that replay exists just to give a semblance of getting the call right. Just the same as in the NFL and in the NBA. It’s not whether the call’s actually right as it is whether it looks like an effort’s being made to get the call correct.

This is a simple issue to fix. Maddon’s got a decent idea. Put the independent group in the replay office with each person watching a different game. When that person sees a play that needs to be reviewed, it’s that person who initiates the review. There’s no need for the manager to get involved, and there’s no need for the umpire to be thinking about whether the call might be challenged by a manager when he makes his decision. Junk the entire challenge system. The manager has no say as to whether there’s a replay review, and the umpire has no say. It’s all up to that person watching the game in New York.

And the umpire’s original call should not factor into anything. If the call’s wrong, the call’s wrong, and that call comes from the replay official. The umpire’s interpretation of the play matters not one bit. The ball’s fair or foul. The ball’s over the home run line, or it’s not. The tag was applied, the runner beat the throw. That’s all that matters.

The MLB replay process will probably never be perfect. Managers will always find a way to complain. Fans will always think the league’s biased against their team. But the challenge system is perhaps the stupidest way of doing things, and it’s almost like MLB chose it just so that it would fail. It doesn’t have to fail. It can work. The managers want it to work, and maybe, if enough people complain, then MLB will get around to making it’s replay system truly workable. 

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