It sure has changed the game. That much we can say definitively about the first season of expanded replay reviews in Major League Baseball.
We used to watch heated arguments between umpires, managers and players. Now, we mostly have mellow conversations.
“Gee whiz, Mr. Umpire, I think you might have missed that one, but I still think you are a real swell guy,” Mr. Manager says after his slow walk from the dugout to the field while Mr. Bench Coach calls Mr. Video Review Man.
The signal comes from the dugout and, depending on which way Mr. Bench Coach turns his thumbs, either Mr. Umpire walks toward the replay headset or Mr. Manager peacefully returns to the dugout.
“They’re talking about their kids’ soccer games or Little League games or something,” said John Schuerholz, the Atlanta Braves president who chaired the committee that implemented this year’s expanded replay system. “They’re talking about dinner. I refer to it as the artificial vaudevillian pause. It’s a lot better than kicking dirt and spitting tobacco juice.”
The biggest reason it’s a lot better is because at the end of the kinder, gentler discussions, the call is almost always right. That, alone, has made the introduction of expanded replay a success.
“I think it has been spectacular,” Schuerholz said Tuesday by phone. “What I think the preponderance of proof has shown is that this system has made sure that most calls are made correctly and that fewer bad calls are made that impact the outcome of games. That was not available until this year.”
That’s the one part I disagree with. The advent of instant replay in baseball was long overdue, but now that it’s here it is a welcome addition to a game that has had some historically devastating missed calls. And some of the challenges have been as interesting as the game itself.
In early May, for example, we had the first walk-off replay in baseball history. It occurred when Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte sprinted for home on a throwing error and slid headfirst into the plate with San Francisco catcher Buster Posey making the tag. Marte was called out and the energy was sucked out of PNC Park. The call was reversed after a replay review of about two minutes. The obligatory walk-off mob scene took place along the Pirates’ dugout railing and fireworks shot into the night sky. It was different and it was better because it was the right call.
Earlier this month, we had a double review that resulted in a triple play in a game between the Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers. Dee Gordon tried to tag from third and score on a fly ball by Adrian Gonzalez to left field. Gordon was thrown out at the plate by Michael Brantley and when Yasiel Puig tried to advance to second, he was thrown out by catcher Yan Gomes. Puig was initially called safe, but the call was overturned after being challenged by Indians manager Terry Francona. At that point, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly challenged the call at home, which was upheld.
My favorite replay reversal of the first half also occurred earlier this month when Toronto manager John Gibbons contended that his own runner was out on a tag by Oakland first baseman Nate Freiman. He was right and the challenge allowed Edwin Encarnacion to be ruled safe at home on the play because Freiman’s tag erased a force play at the plate.
“It has been pretty much what we expected,” Schuerholz said. “We knew it would be better and we knew it would be different. We knew it would take some acclimating.”
It is not perfect and it will be tweaked in the coming years.
“Some of the things we’ll pay more attention to during the offseason,” Schuerholz said. “How do you smooth out the rhythm and flow of game while utilizing replay? There are a number of other things, too, but on the whole we’re very, very pleased.”
The biggest controversies have been the new rule regarding a catcher’s ability to block home plate. It remains ambiguous and was not initially part of the replay package. Schuerholz assured that the rule will be reviewed thoroughly after the season, which it needs to be.
Through Monday’s game in Milwaukee, the Phillies had challenged 17 calls and eight of them were reversed. That’s a 47 percent success rate, which is almost identical to the average number of calls that had been overturned in all of baseball.
According to Major League Baseball’s statistics, there had been 678 reviews. Of that number, 23.5 percent of the umpire calls were confirmed, another 190 stood as called and 322 were overturned. The average time of each replay was 1 minute, 49 seconds.
The system isn’t perfect, but baseball is better because of it.