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The staff recounts some poor umpire calls that could have been corrected with the benefit of instant replay.

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August 22, 2013 6:00 am

Skewed Left: Miking Up Umpires

11

Zachary Levine

Why the expansion of replay review makes it more vital that MLB give umpires a voice.

Picture this. You’re at a ballgame. Yeah, you. At a baseball game. You’re sitting behind the third base dugout when this play happened.

Max Scherzer, who was not pitching that day, was ejected from the game. But you didn’t know that. You bought expensive Yankee Stadium seats with prices well into the triple digits for your family and had no idea who was ejected—whether it was Torii Hunter, someone due up later in the inning, a bench coach, a bat boy, it could have been anybody.

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Even a less-than-perfect replay plan is a big success for baseball.

On Thursday, Major League Baseball ended a five-year wait for the expansion of instant replay review. You’ve already read about the details, but the proposal cooked up by Bud Selig’s replay committee comes down to this: managers will be allowed one challenge of a reviewable play from the first inning through the sixth, and two more from the seventh inning on (challenges that prove successful won’t subtract from those totals). We don’t know exactly which plays are part of the plan, but we do know that reviewable plays will cover 89 percent of past incorrect calls, excluding balls and strikes. When a challenge is issued, an on-field umpire will contact a fifth umpire at MLBAM headquarters in New York, who’ll have access to every available video feed and who’ll quickly confirm or overturn the original ruling.

It’s not a perfect plan, and the internet was quick to focus on the flaws. But there’s a lot here to be happy about, and amidst all the fault-finding, I’m not sure the real significance of the proposed system has sunk in. So I’m going to give you the glass-half-full perspective, as opposed to the glass-half-shattered, shards-embedded-in-eyeballs perspective that seemed to take over Twitter when the news was announced.

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Ben and Sam (mostly) celebrate the impending arrival of a new replay review system.

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We all want to see more plays called correctly, but altering the existing umpiring system could have unintended consequences.

The subject of instant replay is once again in the hearts and minds and throats and fingers of our nation’s baseball commentators, spurred on by the existence of actual news on the subject:

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Some thoughts on the pros and cons of instant replay.

Umpires are terrible, right? 

Well, no, not really. But listen to fans in Boston or Tampa Bay or Anaheim or Minnesota or pretty much any other major league city and they'll tell you they are. Recent blown calls - some minor, some major - in those cities can't help but give the everyday fan that opinion. With 24-hour talk radio, high profile cable shows like Sportscenter, Baseball Tonight, MLB Tonight and others, official team blogs and websites, and a countless number of fan blogs all there to analyze any and every movement on the field, a blown call can reverberate like never before. Umpires can turn into household names - for all the wrong reasons - overnight. It's not an easy job.

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One man's exercise in trying to see what's involved in reviewing umpire calls.

In the weeks since Jim Joyce’s missed call at first base transformed Armando Galarraga’s rare perfecto into an even more memorable faux-hitter, lots has been said and written about expanding the use of instant replay in baseball. Some have come out against any increased use of technology to correct umpire mistakes, a few with arguments seemingly cribbed from King Ludd, but most with reasonable concerns about game length, undermining authority, and the difficulty of determining where to place runners after an overturned call. Others have supported increased use of replay in various forms, from allowing managers a set number of challenges, to the installation of a replay umpire to intervene when a suspicious call is made. While polls have shown a surprising lack of support among players for replay, a majority of fans seem to like the idea, and Bud Selig has at least tepidly agreed to ask his curiously-constructed “on-field matters” committee to explore the idea.

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