The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

January 26, 2014

Larimore: MLB replay changes the game, for better or worse

As Spring Training and Opening Day of the 2014 season approaches, area baseball fans will notice a fundamental change in the way the game looks this year.

Major League Baseball, the players’ association and all 30 of its clubs have unanimously agreed to an expansion of instant replay starting this season. Under the agreement, approximately 90 percent of all plays throughout the course of a game will be reviewable.

Most notably, ball and strike calls by the home plate umpire will not be reviewable. Check-swings and foul tips will also still be up to the umpire to call in real time.

Some of the plays that will be subject to video replay include force plays (except the controversial “neighborhood play,” where a middle infielder might not directly touch second base while turning a double play), tag plays, fair/foul calls and trapped fly balls in the outfield, batters hit by a pitch, timing plays pertaining to baserunners scoring on a play where a third out is recorded, touching bases, passing runners, and even scorebook keeping.

Replays will be initiated by a manager’s challenge for the first six innings. Managers begin with one challenge to use in those frames and, if successful on their first attempt, will be allowed one more challenge before the crew chief of the umpiring crew takes responsibility of initiating reviews from the seventh inning on.

Managers cannot challenge more than two plays per game, but, in theory, the crew chief could initiate as many reviews as he deems necessary. This means fans could see more than four instant replay reviews in the course of a nine-inning game, depending on the umpires.

As recently as the 2013 World Series, MLB saw at least two close and controversial plays that may or may not have been impacted by instant replay.

In game one of the Fall Classic, Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma took a throw on a potential double-play, but the ball glanced off the tip of his glove. Initially, the second base umpire called the runner out, saying Kozma lost the ball while transferring it from glove to throwing hand.

No replay was used, but the umpires huddled and reversed the call, deciding Kozma never actually caught the ball. Despite the involvement of the “neighborhood play,” it would presumably have been reviewable as a force play under the new system.

In game three, Allen Craig was awarded home plate on a walkoff fielder obstruction call. That play, along with any others involving obstruction or player interference, would not be reviewable.

It’s important to make note of the fact that the league and all 30 clubs approved the new system. Obviously the replay expansion is something all parties wanted and welcomed. For good reason. It makes perfect sense to get every call (or as many as possible) correct as often as possible.

But there has to be some concern from a business standpoint of slowing down a game that is often played at a snail’s pace already. Football is undeniably America’s No. 1 game. It’s fast-paced, action-packed and the breaks in play are far less frequent than baseball’s. For those reasons and others, it’s more popular among sports fans.

Sure, fans who are already committed to watching a baseball game in its entirety aren’t likely to be deterred by a couple of replay challenges. But is it really going to make it easier to expand interest to an already impatient fanbase when even more time during a baseball game is spent not playing baseball?

Perhaps MLB deserves credit for being more concerned with the integrity of the game than drawing as many new fans as possible to expand the brand. Here’s to hoping that’s enough to keep the brand going.

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