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Umpires might get microphones to explain video reviews, and nothing can possiblie go wrong

I mean, “possibly go wrong.” That’s the first thing that’s ever gone wrong with MLB’s video review

MLB: Game Two-Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians
“♫In and around the lake/Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there♫”
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Video review in baseball is a slog, an enjoyment wedgie in the middle of a slow-paced game. It’s also something that isn’t going away because we’re addicted to it. We’ve seen the future, and it doesn’t include the very worst of the worst blown calls. There is still progress to be made, but it will be forward progress. The baseline has been established, and we don’t have to live in fear of the Armando Galarraga imperfect game or Joe Mauer’s double anymore.

There might be some Cardinals fans with opinions about the 1985 World Series, even.

There will still be blown calls that are upheld. There will still be silly decisions about catchers blocking the plate. There will still be replays that take way too long for no apparent reason. But baseball fans feel comfortable knowing that the worst of the worst calls aren’t hiding under their bed at night. All of the future changes to video review will be in service of that simple truth.

Most of the changes, anyway. Because the AP is reporting that baseball is considering adding a wrinkle to video review that absolutely no one is asking for.

While nothing is set, Major League Baseball and umps are expected to discuss a plan - most prominently used in the NFL - for crew chiefs to wear a microphone and explain replay rulings.

I’m curious. Morbidly curious.


[points into the stands]


[points into the stands]


[points into the stands]


For the most part, though, we won’t be treated to WWE-style theater like that. It will be a terse, gruff explanation from someone who just wants to get back to work.

UMPIRE: therulingonthefieldisupheldbecauseofalackofconclusiveevidencetooverturntheplay

FANS: Boooooo.

That’s it. That’s what 99 percent of the video reviews would be. Most of them would confirm what we already knew. And if the play looked like it should have been overturned but wasn’t, the answer will always, always, always have to do with the video evidence being “inconclusive.”

Announcers already get word if the calls are confirmed (meaning the video proves the umpire’s call was right) or upheld (meaning there isn’t enough evidence to overturn). Assuming the umpire isn’t going to get a stool and pontificate on the gentle art of umpiring, or reveal a previously unseen nuance to the video that the fans have already seen seven times, I’m just not sure what this will add.

Still morbidly curious, of course. But also a touch confused.

In the NFL, the referees have microphones to explain their decisions, so we have at least some idea of how this would work. It’s not going to be a perfect comp, but it’s a pretty good one, and there are usually two outcomes.

  1. The referee says the equivalent of, “Yes, I saw the same video 30 times, just like you, and I came to the same conclusions you did.”
  2. The referee says the equivalent of, “No, either you weren’t looking at the same video as me, looking at the wrong things, or you just don’t know what ‘clear and convincing’ evidence is. Sorry.”

I don’t remember an NFL referee turning on his mic and explaining a decision that makes all the fans in the stadium, on TV, and on Twitter say, “Ohhhhhhh, I get it now. That makes a ton of sense.” You won’t get that with baseball, either.

You will get explanations like this:

It was impossible to determine if the fielder had the ball in his mitt based on the video evidence.

And you’ll respond with, “Oh, come on” or “yeah, I didn’t see it either,” except ... that’s what you do now. When umpires refuse to overturn a call, it’s assumed that there wasn’t enough evidence.

Based on the video, it was impossible to determine if the runner’s foot was hovering over home plate, or if it was touching it.

Yeah, we figured as much.

The fielder’s body obscured the play from every available angle, so we could not determine ...

No, seriously, we figured as much. None of these explanations will improve our understanding of what happened. More importantly, they don’t help our enjoyment of the game.

There are two reasons I can think of for this change. The first is theater, letting the fans engage with the decision just a little more, while umpires explain what someone in New York thought. I guess that’s a little fun. Not enough to stop the game, but we’ll get some enjoyment out of it every 100th time. Think of it like the intentional walk, which was rarely interesting, but we’ll still miss the rare quirks.

Imagine Joe West with a hot mic that he doesn’t know is live, for example. We deserve this.

The second reason is if New York really has evidence that the poor slobs at home don’t have access to. Take this play, for example:

To me, and all of the fans watching, that looked like this:

The call on the field was “safe.” From that shot, it looks impossible to tell if Chris Davis’ foot is actually touching the base. It looks like it is, but that wouldn’t be enough for me. The difference between that and this ...

... is a fraction of a fraction of a second.

Imagine the umpire hopping on the mic and saying something like this:

UMPIRE: Based on super-high-definition video that would blow your freaking minds, there was a slight, nearly imperceptible indentation on first base that proves the first baseman’s foot was still in contact while the ball was secure in his mitt.

Now that would justify the whole endeavor. Give the fans something they wouldn’t have otherwise. Give us an explanation that’s better than an umpire admitting he couldn’t be 100 percent certain, and I’m in.

That’s unlikely, of course. Until the technology allows for something like that, I’ll be skeptical and curious, wondering exactly who was clamoring for this. Baseball would have to go to a lot of trouble to implement this, and for now, the only possible reactions range from bemusement to annoyance. If that’s the spectrum, it’s hard to believe this would be worth the effort.