Unless you've been living under a rock or Arkansas for the last week, you probably know of the latest controversial blown call by an umpire in a Major League Baseball game. If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me reset it for you:
Pittsburgh is in Atlanta and it's the bottom of the 19th inning (yes, 19th inning) with the score tied 3-3. Julio Lugo draw a one-out walk for the Braves and advances to third on Jordan Schafer's single to center. Schafer then took second on the next pitch making it second and third with only one out. Atlanta was out of position players on the bench, so reliever Scott Proctor stepped up to the plate to hit for himself. Proctor smacks a grounder to third and with Lugo going on contact, looks to be dead to rights as Pirate third baseman Pedro Alvarez tosses it to the catcher Michael McKenry. The ball beats Lugo by a mile. But Lugo being the cagey vet that he is, stops short on his slide forcing McKenry to do a swipe tag and then Lugo steps around McKenry to touch on the plate. Plate umpire Jerry Meals (not a spring chicken, dude's been in the league for over a decade) calls Lugo safe saying McKenry "ole'd" (his word, not mine) on the swipe and Lugo was safe. Game over. Or should it be? After numerous replays after the fact, you could see that Lugo was hit on the leg. Heck, even Lugo was amazed he was called safe. The game should have continued. Oh, and another thing, if you haven't watched the entire replay, check out Proctor after he hits it. He takes about three steps and completely wipes out just after reaching the grass, once again showing the world why pitchers shouldn't hit.
One thing that has really annoyed me in the aftermath of this play is that everybody is saying the game should have gone to the 20th inning. Let's not forget that had Lugo been called out, that would have been the second out of the inning. McKenry after the tag wasn't even thinking about going to first for the potential DP after Proctor scraped himself up and scampered to the bag. This would have made it first and third with two outs and Martin Prado coming up with a chance to win it again in the 19th for Atlanta. Granted, Prado was having possibly the worst day of his career as he was 0-9, but hey, dude was due. He could have gotten a knock, been the hero and totally redeemed himself.
So now you know the backstory leading me up to the point that I'm trying to get to: Major League Baseball needs to expand it's review policy. Since 2008, MLB has allowed instant replay to be used only on homers, whether they cleared the wall, there was fan interference or if the ball was fair or fall. That's it. Nothing else. They have two main arguments against expanding it. 1) They think it would make the game too long. Games are already close to three hours on average as is. What's another five minutes for a replay or two? 2) The human element has always been a part of the game. Of course it has, but with the technology we have today, human error shouldn't determine the outcome as much as it does now. It cracks me up when announcers or umpires or league officials say the important thing is to "get the call right" but when they miss it, not being able to go back and fix it if they didn't.
So anyways, without further adieu, here's my plan for expanded replay reviews in MLB:
1) It's a challenge system. The manager gets one challenge a game. I've heard people talk about throwing a flag like in football but that's unnecessary. Baseball is pretty much the only sport where managers/coaches are allowed to run onto the playing surface after a play to debate or argue a call. Play's done, the manager can simply run (or waddle as Sweet Lou Piniella used to do) onto the field and inform the crew chief that he is challenging that play. The crew chief then goes to the phone/monitor setup that each park has and then has three minutes to make the ruling with the help of the guys in New York and make any necessary changes after the play has been reviewed. The decision can't be made in three minutes, then there probably wasn't "substantial evidence" to overturn the call and the manager loses his challenge.
2) If the challenge is upheld, the manager of the challenging team gets an additional one. This can continue until a challenge fails and then they can't challenge anymore.
3) Once the pitcher toes the rubber in a normal manner to begin the process of taking signs for the next pitch, the previous play can't be challenged. This would prevent managers from waiting till the last second and running onto the field to challenge a play as a pitcher is starting his wind-up or delivery. I hate it when football coaches call timeout to "ice the kicker" at the end of a game. This would prevent that from being an issue in baseball.
4) Challenges by managers that are done as stall tactics or ways to make a mockery of the game can be shot down by the crew chief. Let's say it's the bottom of the last inning and the starting pitcher is still in the game with a shutout intact. He runs into some trouble with a guy reaching that was obviously safe. The manager, wanting to give his reliever a little more time to prepare, challenges the play even though the batter-runner was out by five steps. Obvious stall tactic, crew chief denies the challenge and the game continues. Now I know what you're thinking. If the manager comes out there to talk to the crew chief he's still getting extra time for his reliever to warm-up which is basically doing the same thing. True, but he's not getting the extra three minutes and if he doesn't leave the field in a timely fashion after his challenge has been denied, he could be ejected.
5) All plays are reviewable. It's dumb that they only use it now for home runs when those account for such a small part of the game. The plays you'd see challenged the most would almost undoubtedly be safe/out calls at first on bang-bang plays. I was listening to some talking heads on the radio this week and they were advocating replays of all plays at the plate where there might be some doubt. I don't like that. Let's say a guy hits a ball down the right field line and is ruled fair when it should have been called foul (a call umpires rarely miss, but we're going to use if for this example) and the batter-runner gets a three-bagger out of it. Next guy hits a clean single scoring the run. No replay would have been used under that proposed idea, but the run still shouldn't have scored because he should have still been in the box after the errant fair/foul call. Get the call right.
6) Absolutely no reviews of called strikes, balls or checked swings. You want that so-called "human element" to remain? Well here you go. The only pitches that are reviewable are swinging strikes where there was possible contact for a foul ball or catcher's interference. Also, it could be used to determine if a batter was hit by a pitch. I think this would be used very rarely, but at lease you'd have the option if need be.
7) All challenges and rulings by the umpires must be communicated to the fans via an announcement by the crew chief just as the referee does in football games. I haven't seen or heard too many people bring this up, but I think it would be a nice wrinkle to add in there to help keep the fans informed and maybe give them a little better understanding of what's going on out there.
Under my plan, you still have the human element with the balls and strikes and you'd still have it if teams were out of challenges. Another reason I think this system would be better for baseball is it give managers something else to do before the 7th inning when they start fiddling around with match-ups and making calls for situational hitting. Up till that point, they're basically sitting there spitting their seeds and scratching themselves while the game unfolds.
Just think how things could possibly be different if MLB used this new system instead. The Royals might not have won the 1985 World Series (more on that in October as I have a blog planned for that debate). Armando Gallaraga would have gotten his perfect game instead of a one-hitter after Jim Joyce's botched call in the ninth and Gallaraga's career might not have gone in the tank afterwards. The Pirates (definitely in the playoff picture) might not have lost that game and in the race they're in, every W counts.
If the most important thing to get it right, we need to use the tools we have to get the job done. Now's the perfect time to start before it's too late and another missed call makes history.