Instant Replay The Cheap and Dirty Way

This week owners approved instant replay for the 2014 season.  The fans have been asking them to do that for a while now but what was approved won’t make the fans happy.


What Fans Wanted And What We Got

For the past few years there’s been an increasing loud and strident chorus of fans, players and even umpires asking that a sensible system of instant replay be instituted. Initially the Commissioner was against it but as time went on he gradually came around. As usual however the simplest answer never had a chance. The system they adopted is as convoluted as a corn maze designed by a drunk ant.

 Camel => Horse

There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee; the more people who have a hand in designing something the less likely it is to be what you wanted.  A committee designed the new replay system and proved that cliché one hundred percent true. Herewith the sordid detail compared to what they could easily have done.

New MLB Replay Criteria The Quick and Easy Way
1 Managers will have at least one challenge to use. If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, then the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game. Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call. Home run and other boundary calls will remain reviewable under the procedures in place last season. Managers may challenge any play that is reasonable to question except balls and strikes
2 A designated communication location near home plate will be established at all 30 MLB ballparks. There, the Crew Chief and at least one other Major League Umpire will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center, which will remain at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. Major League Umpires will be staffed as Replay Officials at the Replay Command Center. After viewing video feeds, the Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call, based on the continuing standard of whether there is clear and convincing evidence. All umpires will wear an ear piece that connects them to a fifth umpire in a video replay room at the stadium. The fifth umpire reviews every close play and issues a correction if there is an error. If a manager argues the correction he’s immediately ejected. If he fails to leave he’s suspended for two additional games.
Home run Everything except balls and strikes
Ground rule double
Fan interference
Stadium boundary calls (e.g., fielder into stands, ball into stands triggering dead ball)
Force play (except the fielder’s touching of second base on a double play)
Tag play (including steals and pickoffs)
Fair/foul in outfield only
Trap play in outfield only
Batter hit by pitch
Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out)
Touching a base (requires appeal)
Passing runners
Record keeping (Ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions)
All other plays will not be reviewable; however, the Umpires may still convene on the field at any time to discuss the play.
Field managers may initiate replay review on one reviewable play per game by verbally indicating his intention to challenge, in a timely manner, to the Crew Chief. Guidelines will be established to determine whether a challenge is timely. See 1 and 2 above
If a manager or coach challenges plays that have no reasonable reason for challenge he’s suspended for four games without appeal or pay.
Players may not challenge at all. Arguing a challenged play is immediate ejection like arguing balls and strikes.
The manager may request that the umpire review multiple portions of the same play, but he must specify exactly which portions of the play he is challenging.
If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.
Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call. In that circumstance, the Crew Chief is not obligated to invoke instant replay if requested by the manager.
Home run calls that are currently subject to instant replay review will continue to be reviewed at the Crew Chief’s discretion. Managers may request that an Umpire review a home run call, but managers cannot challenge home run calls.
5 REVIEW PROCESS   See 1 and 2 above
Once instant replay review is invoked (either by the Manager or the Crew Chief), the Crew Chief will signal to the official scorer that the play is under review.
The Crew Chief and at least one other umpire will then move to a designated communication location near home plate, where they will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center in New York.
Major League Umpires will be staffed as Replay Officials at the Replay Command Center, located at MLB Advanced Media headquarters, for all Major League games.
The Replay Command Center will have direct access to video from most cameras in the ballpark in real-time, regardless of whether they are shown on the live broadcast.
The Replay Official will look at the video feeds and determine if there is clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call on the field. If the Replay Official overturns a call on the field, he will also use his judgment to determine where to appropriately place runners if the play had been called correctly on the field.
The umpires on the field will not have a monitor to review the play and they will not leave the field at any time.
The Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call.
On-Field personnel may not argue with the decision of the Replay Official.
To determine whether to challenge a play, personnel in the dugout will be permitted to communicate with a video specialist in the Clubhouse who has access to the same video that is available to Replay Officials. This communication will occur via the dugout phone. Okay, why not but really not needed they almost certainly do it now, might as well make it legal huh?
Both the home and visiting Clubs will have standardized technology to ensure each Club has equal access to all video.
No monitors or additional electronic equipment will be permitted in the dugout.
Clubs will now have the right to show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed. I don’t know about this. I don’t want the umpires attacked because Joe (or Josephine) Beernut thinks all the umpires got it wrong. OTOH thy could easily do that anyway so why not?

Saint Louis Post Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz called a the system gimmick. He went on to liken the procedures to those of a TV game show. He asks some very reasonable questions. (Paraphrasing here)

  • Why doe the manager get only two challenges a game?
  • Why do they forfeit their second challenge if the first is not upheld?
  • Why are the managers being scrutinized and not the umpires?
  • Why are the umpires being given a free pass?
  • Why just get some calls right, why not all of them?

To those I would add

  • Why do umpires get to challenge something? Aren’t they right already?
  • If Umpires challenge themselves responding to a manager’s argument isn’t that in effect a manager’s challenge?
  • Why do the second baseman and shortstop get a pass on the double play vicinity play? Simply call runners out for interference as the rules now allow if he slides into a defender and not into a bag. The close enough to touch with his hand idea is silly. Umpires know why a slide is made.


Miklasz concludes with this gem.

Instead of staging an absurd Kabuki theater, MLB should just put an eye-in-the-sky supervisor in a booth upstairs to take a look at close or questionable calls. He’d buzz the crew chief to pause the game, quickly review the play, and then issue a ruling on the call.

Gee, I like that. I could have said it myself. Oh wait, I did and so did many others.

Many spoke but no one listened

In 2009 following blown line calls in the ALCS Jon Miller opined on the subject.

(Jon) Miller suggests positioning the two baseline umpires used during the playoffs in a replay booth, with the authority to contact the crew chief in case they agree calls need to be overturned. “You wouldn’t need to have meetings or anything,” he said. “It could happen very quickly, and you could do it just for the postseason. What they have now with the boundary calls is fine. Just do something a little more in-depth for the postseason. Why not?”


In 2011 Craig Calceterra over at Hardball Talks said this.

That’s the key, I believe, for replay to work well as it expands in use. The eye-in-the-sky — I say a fifth umpire in a booth — who can almost instantly review calls without on-field arguing and challenges and without the regular umpires having to leave the field. We already allow one ump to overrule another if he saw a play better. This would simply be an extension of that. Indeed, practically speaking all it would require is an ear piece worn by the crew chief. If the sky-ump sees the play was called wrong on the field, it can be resolved in a matter of seconds.


I wrote over a year ago that the answer should be simple, the technology existed and that MLB would never do it because it cost too much. Essentially I opined that:

  • A fifth umpire be added to every crew stationed in a video room supplied by each club at their ballpark
  • Each umpire wear an in-ear communications device
  • The fifth umpire to automatically review and correct all close plays

Someone ask whether the ear piece would affect the umpires hearing on the field or get dislodged when they run.  No. At least this one wouldn’t.

Why was the easy, simple, straightforward answer bypassed for such a complex system?

Follow the money

People are the most expensive thing you can add to any business and the new system means MLB needs to hire eight new umpires to man the central replay room at their headquarters in New York City.  Since umpires earn at least $100,000 a year plus benefits that adds something like a million dollars to their annual budget.  The new umpires will likely go the field and the replay room be manned by experienced umps but the overall money’s the same. To put an umpire in each ballpark would require about 20 new umpire. Twenty, why? Workload factors.

Manpower calculations always include a factor for vacation, illness and emergency absence from a job. The last time I worked with one it was about 1.8. If that were applied the required number would be 27 but in this case would could use minor league umpires for a large part of it the extra work. Still more have to be major league ready and that means more training for them and different contract structure. This ripples through the minor leagues generating new jobs at all levels. Many they can get agovernment grant. . . I digress.  They also have to train more senior umps for video room duty. In any event the number at the major league level would likely be five not twelve.

That would increase the annual payroll by at least $2.5M and likely closer to three immediately. In the long term it also increases health care, pension and disability benefits too so the $2.5M a year is just the tip of the payroll iceberg. There’s also the increased travel, lodging and meals expenses for the extra ump an increase of 20% per game if my math isn’t too rusty.  Another consideration is the room at the ballpark and the equipment to furnish it as well as paying the TV companies to replay the plays on demand. Yes, I know they do it anyway but do you expect them not to ask for more money to do it when asked by an ump?  Centralizing it in New York allows the MLBAM folks to be the ones to cue up the replays.  As they are owned by MLB the money merely moves sideways and not out. Having had MLB Extra Innings for years I worry about their ability to do the job but let’s assume they can for now. When MLB looked at their bottom line they saw a saving of a couple of million a year initially and a lot more in the long term. That’s the reason no matter how they want to spin it, MLB went the cheapest route and they had a loud enough voice to persuade everyone this was the way to go.

That’s a Wrap

I expect Bud and his minions to be out extolling the virtues of the system over the next few weeks. They’ve already said it may not all be ready and everyone up to speed by the start of the season. I expect them to say that limiting challenges will prevent managerial abuse of the system.  I’m sure lawyer and committee member Tony LaRussa wanted something to stop others from doing what he would have tried to do as manager, exploit the system to give his team an advantage. That’s easily done without limiting challenges however.

They will say the system won’t slow the game down as much but the way it’s configured it has to slow it down. I saw nothing in the rules to stop a manager from arguing without challenging a call if he’s used up his challenges. Is that grounds to eject him? Will they?

The folks in New York will have 10-15 games going at once, what’s the likelihood of challenges happening simultaneously? Not high I admit but it will happen and we will hear about it. The players, managers and umpires will have to learn the system and there will be screw-ups along the way. This happens with any system. The amount of rules makes the learning curve steeper and longer.

There are a myriad of things that can go wrong here but I guess it’s better than nothing. One last thought, If we get Angel Hernandez, Joe West, Bob Davidson and C.B. Bucknor in the replay room will Hernandez and Bucknor call down and have Fredi Gonzalez ejected just for old times sake?

Tags: Atlanta Braves FanSided

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