GLENDALE, Ariz. – More instant replay is coming to baseball in 2014. Joe Torre said as much Tuesday afternoon, and considering Torre started off as one of the hard-liners on Major League Baseball's special committee that considers such rules changes, this at very least represents progress and at best gives hope the sport will embrace widespread replay.
Now comes the difficult part: getting it right.
This will not be easy. It takes foresight and courage to upend conventions long ingrained in baseball. Asking a committee with an average age of 65.6 to embrace change rooted in technology is begging for half-measures. That cannot happen. If baseball wants to make the right and full transition, it must swallow the idea that full replay is inevitable, embrace that reality and market it as an antiquated game's attempt at progressiveness.
First, and most important, is accepting the impetus behind replay. Get. The. Call. Right. Do everything you humanly can to get it right. Even without perfect technology – some calls will be inconclusive and others, yes, still blown despite video – its presence allows us to correct enough errors to make it worthwhile. Torre and his ilk must get past romanticizing the "human element" – the idea that because people are fallible, their screw-ups are somehow acceptable – and recognize that all of the systems, from super-slo-mo video to camera and radar ball-tracking systems, are eminently human: designed by us and tweaked by us with purpose.
"It's to get the thing right," Torre said, and he was on the right track until he fell back into the usual trap. "But again, do we want to get every single thing right?"
Yes. Yes! Yes, yes, yes!!!
"Is that our life?" he continued. "Do we stumble up a step or down a step? To me, I think reality is, even if you have replay, there are times you're not going to be able to tell. Again, I'm learning this as I go."
What he has learned, in those committee meetings, is the sort of thing that didn't at first appeal to a group with 10 of 14 members on the Social Security rolls. Replay is going to cost a lot of money in both technology and manpower. It has many potential tentacles, from what rules are implemented to what technologies to use to getting players and umpires to agree to changes, that they're just now at the point of discussing particulars.
Starting with the WBC's games in Miami, the league will test everything from the time potential replays take to the proper camera angles to capture the likeliest plays. MLB logged and charted every play last year, isolating exactly how many replays it would have used, and that number didn't scare off the committee. It did remind the members of their top priority, even greater than making the proper call: do not interrupt the rhythm of the game.
Inside the meetings, that word reverberates: rhythm. It is sacrosanct to the committee, and to baseball writ large, really. Other sports include timeouts. Because baseball is not used to such long pauses, the idea of throwing off the game's rhythm with breaks to look at replay scares the committee.
"I don't think we want to get into this every single play," Torre said. "The game would never end."
This, of course, is not realistic. A strong replay plan will indeed review close plays, which in most cases will take minimal time – seconds as opposed to minutes. The effect on a baseball game may be 10 minutes, and that's only in the worst-case scenario. When baseball went to longer between-innings commercials and morphed into a matchup-relief game with pitching changes a-go-go, it ceded any moral high ground on timeliness. Accuracy for time is a trade worth making.
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Here's the thing: Baseball can pass the time in a great way if it simply tries to understand what the consumer today wants. Fans want openness. They want transparency. They want to see behind the curtain. They want an office in New York with replay monitors and people in charge of interpreting close calls on those monitors so the umpires on the field don't waste their time waddling into some back room where nobody has a clue what's going on. They want cameras on the wall of the centralized replay office filming the people looking at those monitors. They want explanations, because ever since Fox ingenuously used Mike Pereira to tell us what was happening underneath the replay hood in an NFL game, sports fans have been spoiled.
This is not just a suggestion. It is a necessity. Make replay a part of the game. Weave it into the fabric of every television broadcast. Networks are paying billions of dollars for the rights to beam games into TVs. Putting a face on replay – an ex-umpire who knows the rules, explains them clearly and concisely and becomes the absolute authority – is the best way to do it.
Over the next few months, the details will work themselves out, whether it's giving managers challenge flags – or limiting use of such challenges to the seventh inning on to prevent copious replays. And they'll understand soon enough that limiting the scope of what plays to review only will lead to further expansion. Doing things piecemeal, as we've seen with MLB's ever-expanding drug program, is neither the most efficient nor effective way to pursue change.
"We certainly want the attention to be on [the game]," Torre said. "I'd like to make it a part of the game without it being the focus."
Torre's willingness to grow and accept the game's evolution is great fortune for replay advocates. He commands immense respect around the sport. Soon enough, hopefully, he'll realize that until full replay exists, blown calls will always be the focus, no matter how brilliant the performance. Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game, and all anyone can remember is how Jim Joyce bungled what should've been the 27th out. The Braves and Pirates played 19 glorious innings, only for Jerry Meals to end the game with a complete whiff.
The sooner MLB embraces full replay's inevitability the better the game will be for it. Do it, and do it right. Give it a face. Own it. Don't drag the sport into the present. Propel it into the future.
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