So this was a welcome bit of surprising news, if only because it's so surprising: The Lords of Baseball, convening in Cooperstown because of General Abner Doubleday, have finally agreed on a video-review system with some serious teeth. The devil's always been in the details, and it seems they've finally figured out the details:
The replay will include up to three challenges that mangers will be provided during a game, one in the first six innings, and two beginning in the seventh inning through the game's duration. If a manager is successful with his replay challenge, he will not be charged with a review.
If a manager exhausts his three challenges, and umpire crew can make a review of its own only to determine home-run calls, a rule that will be grandfathered in with the new regulations.
First, this: There is no perfect system. I beg my friends to please stop pretending there is. However brilliant you might think your favorite system, I promise you this: I can poke a hole in it. A bunch of holes, maybe.
Second, there are a lot of people (read: guys on Twitter) who already hate this new proposal, and it's not hard to understand why.
A. Calls are just as likely to be missed in the fourth inning as the seventh. There will be any number of occasions when a manager issues a challenge in the first inning, the challenge is not upheld, and then he can only sit on his hands as calls are actually missed in the succeeding five innings. Some of those calls will be the difference between winning and losing. Which leaves everyone right back where they started: Wondering why everybody gets to know exactly what happened on the field, except for the umpires.
B. This smacks of football. I've never liked the idea of manager challenges, if only because I prefer the widest possible separation between baseball and football. Yes, this is a matter of taste. But at least I'm not alone on this one:
Coaches challenge in baseball, really? Don't ruin a great game please.— Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) August 15, 2013
Later, Desmond weighed in with this gem:
If you think there is a problem with brakes, do you make the airbags stronger or do get the brakes fixed?— Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) August 15, 2013
Hey. Look at that. A metaphor. I'm impressed. For the more literal-minded among us, Desmond's suggesting that before making a radical change to the way the game is umpired, why not improve the umpires?
Which is a reasonable question. Alas, Major League Baseball's generally got the best umpires in the world, and getting rid of the few (relatively) lousy umpires would result, at least in the short term, in the loss of all of them. Because of the union and stuff. I do believe that when the older umpires finally retire, the next generation will feel a bit less entitled and perhaps a bit more conscientious. Or maybe I'm just a pie-eyed optimist. We'll see.
Anyway, back to the story of the day ... The smart set seems to have another idea for video review, which is well-summed here:
I'll never understand why MLB doesn't just put an extra umpire in a booth to quickly review plays. Seems so simple. http://t.co/JmyHsTnYRc— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) August 15, 2013
You know, if everyone's saying that something is so simple but it's not happening, it's probably not quite so simple at all. This is an argument for UNLIMITED VIDEO REVIEW, so let's call it that. There are ... what, maybe a half-dozen plays per game that look questionable to the naked eye in real time? A dozen? When Gleeman uses the word "quickly", what does that mean? Ten seconds? Two minutes? Is that guy in the booth going to check every camera angle quickly?
Here's what UNLIMITED VIDEO REVIEW might well mean: After every close play, everybody in the ballpark -- the umpires on the field, the players, the fans, the broadcasters -- would stop whatever they're doing, and look up toward the press box, where presumably this extra umpire will be stationed. Upon him and him alone, the fate of the world rests. That's a lot of pressure, plus you're asking an umpire to second-guess his colleagues many times per game. Which won't be any fun at all.
So it wouldn't be any fun, and it would slow the game down, and it would shift everyone's attention away from the field (where it should be) to the press box (where it shouldn't be).
Now, one could add a wrinkle. The umpire in the booth might not be the final arbiter. Instead, he might quickly flag questionable plays, so quickly that perhaps nobody would bother waiting for him. If it's not immediately questionable, play continues apace. If it's truly questionable -- I'm guessing this would happen three or four times per game -- the guy in the booth could halt play, and hand things off to the boys in New York with all their high-def monitors and super-slo-mo gizmos and whatnot.
But none of this is really easy, or simple. If it was, they would have done it already.
Please don't mistake any of the above as an endorsement of whatever Bud Selig and his Merry Band of Ex-Managers come up with. I'm just saying there are a great many things to consider, and there are only two guarantees: No matter what system's in place, calls will still be missed and we'll always have something to complain about.