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October 25, 2011

On the Beat

The State of Instant Replay

by John Perrotto

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One area in which baseball professionals and fans seem to see little gray area is instant replay.

People either want replay reviews expanded beyond the current system in which only home run boundary calls can be challenged, or they want the system left alone entirely. Few are wishy-washy on the subject.

One group of baseball people who never seem to be asked about replay, primarily because they are usually off-limits to the media, are those it affects the most—the umpires. Even Major League Baseball doesn't have a good grasp on how the men in black feel.

Joe Torre, the man who now oversees the umpires in his first year as MLB's vice president of baseball operations, referred the question to Randy Marsh, one of MLB's umpiring supervisors. Marsh didn't have a full answer, either.

"There are some that have expressed that nobody wants to be embarrassed," Marsh said. "Some say maybe we should just give it to them. That's the smaller percentage at this point."

Torre says that all members of the 68-man umpiring staff will have their opinions heard before MLB makes any decision on expanding replay.

"They're all not going to be thinking the same way, so somebody has to make a decision on what we're going to do," Torre said. "But we certainly do consider the umpires' feelings on that because they're the ones that are going to be asked to go look at this thing and change it if it needs to be changed."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, part of Commissioner Bud Selig's special committee on baseball matters, understands why the umpires would be skittish about having more of their work reviewed, but he believes that replay would be beneficial to them.

"I'm more interested as a baseball man than I was a couple years ago when we first started discussing it because of umpires," La Russa said. "I think they've got so much on their plate, and right now they'll catch as much heat as any manager for making or not making a move, a hitter leaving a guy on third base, or a pitcher having a bad day. They have a lot of stuff besides just calling the game with [enforcing] pace of game and Questec [the electronic ball/strike monitoring system] looking over their shoulder. If there's a way to ease that burden, then it's something we should think about."

Selig is admittedly a traditionalist and was reluctant to institute the sport's current replay system. While meeting with the Baseball Writers' Association of America members, Selig suggested that MLB would likely expand replay in 2012 to include fair/foul boundary calls on balls hit to the outfield. However, Torre hinted that any replay expansion likely wouldn't come before 2013.

"I don't want people to think that we're stubborn about this," Torre said. "There are pluses and minuses about replay, but our game doesn't stop. In between innings it does, but for replays to be shown, you have to stop the game. You have a pitcher standing on the mound, you have a hitter. And to me, wholesale replay, I think, is going to disrupt the flow of the game. That's just my opinion. Am I old school? Yeah, I am old school, but I'm not ignoring the new technology that's available to us, and we're going to do everything we can to make the game better."

Players have long complained that umpires won't ask for the help of the rest of their crew if they feel they may have missed a call. However, Torre has encouraged the umpire to confer more often this year, and they have followed through.

"If an umpire sees something maybe that (another umpire) didn't see, he's going to make a gesture of some kind to let that umpire know that maybe we should talk about it," Torre said. "So umpires have had conferences. There have been some objections by some of the managers because, you know, when you get the old school managers, they're saying, 'Well, you missed the play you missed the play; that's the way it goes.' So we've heard it from both sides. We have encouraged the umpires, and the umpires have, just from my experience this year, done a lot of trying to get it right in calls that may have been seen by somebody else a little bit better."

Torre has enjoyed his first season in his role with MLB after 18 years as a player and 29 years as a manager and hopes he can effect some changes for the good of a sport whose television ratings have fallen far behind those of the NFL. Furthermore, the World Series ratings are expected to be lower than those of the Dallas Mavericks-Miami Heat matchup in the NBA Finals last spring.

"I took this job because it was baseball, and it's really the only thing I've ever done in my life professionally," Torre said. "Our game is still very popular. I'm very proud of everything that's gone on, the number of people that still come out and get excited about it. I know other sports are faster and quicker and probably beat each other up a little bit more, but we're pretty proud of what we do here, and I certainly feel a part of it."

***

Scouts' views:

Rangers left-hander Derek Holland: "He showed in Game 4 (of the World Series) the type of pitcher he can be. He spotted his fastball, he threw his breaking pitches for strikes when he needed to, and he threw enough changeups to keep hitters off balance. He's still just 25 and learning how to be consistent with his stuff. He's only going to get better, though, and that is why he is going to eventually become at least a No. 2 starter and maybe a No. 1."

Cardinals right-hander Edwin Jackson: "You wonder if he's ever going to become that type of top-of-the-rotation guy his raw stuff says he should be. He's just so erratic. You never know what you're going to get. He's 28. He's not a kid anymore. He's to the point where he shouldn't have seven walks in 5 1/3 innings like he did (in Game 4). He's going to be a free agent, and someone is going to give him big money believing they can make him a No. 1 starter. They might be right, but I wouldn't make that gamble if it were my money."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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