Change never comes easy. Especially for an institution that has operated successfully for more than 100 years.
Major League Baseball is one full week into the 2014 season, and one full week into the use of video replay in games. So far, the reaction has been mixed.
Red Sox Manager John Farrell entered the week 0-1 in replay challenges. His first virtual red flag toss came Sunday at Fenway Park, when Jackie Bradley, Jr. was called out on the proverbial bang-bang play at first.
The replay upheld the call on the field. Bradley was out. The entire process took 1:38 to complete. It probably would’ve taken longer for Farrell to come out and argue the call.
Replay has been used quickly and efficiently in many instances already. On opening day in Milwaukee, Ryan Braun’s infield single was overturned in just 58 seconds. Braun was out, the umpire’s call was reversed, and the game went on.
Things went a little haywire the next night in Phoenix when San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy asked for a review on a pickoff play at first.
After a review of more than three minutes, the umpires at MLB Headquarters in New York determined there was inconclusive evidence to overturn the call, even though most viewers thought the runner was out. He had been called safe, the call stood, and Bochy lost his one review for the game.
Later that same inning, the same runner was called safe on a close play at the plate. Everyone watching at home knew the call was wrong. They probably even knew in New York. But, since Bochy had lost his review earlier in the inning, there was no way to ask for a review.
The point of having video review in sports is to get calls right. Yet that didn’t happen in San Francisco.
Baseball should take a page from the NHL’s replay policy. In hockey, every goal (and every goal waved off on the ice) is reviewed in the league’s War Room in Toronto. You can’t replay everything that happens on the ice, but you can make sure goal calls are correct. The same should hold true for runs scored (or not scored) in baseball.
Whenever there’s a play at the plate, there should be a quick review to make sure the runner was safe. After all, nothing is more important in baseball than a run being scored. It makes sense that baseball would want every run to be legitimate.
It also makes sense that baseball continues to move to speed up the replay process. Last week the Indians and A’s sat through a replay of nearly five minutes for a call to be upheld on the field.
The point of video review is to get the call right, and that is happening. But baseball, of all sports, cannot handle five-minute delays in the middle of a game. This is an industry already struggling to bring young fans into the game because of its slow pace. Baseball needs to move quicker, not slower.
That may be happening due to many challenges that aren’t issued. We’ve seen numerous cases around the game where managers come out to discuss a call but quickly head back to the dugout without the long, protracted argument. After all, if you’re not ready to issue a challenge (because your bench coach is shaking his head “no” in the dugout) there’s no point in staying out there to argue, right?
While it might be a mixed bag early on, video replay is here to stay. In the end, it will be a good thing. Even if it means we’ll be deprived of seeing a manager throw a tantrum on the field every once in awhile.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.