Cheap Seats

What would make MLB games faster? Get rid of lousy instant replay system

Major League Baseball needs to fix its instant replay system or scrap it altogether.

We hear so much these days about the “need to speed up the game.” It’s a concept that leaves dedicated baseball fans scratching their heads. I’ve been to more baseball games than I can remember and I never once wished the opportunity to see some of the greatest ballplayers in the world do battle was shorter. But what is even more confusing is that, while the powers that be are trying to streamline games, they created a situation that brings the flow of the game to a dead halt several times a night.

Managers hold up their hand and ask for what, in effect, is a timeout in a game that is loved by its most loyal supporters because it has no clock. They’re waiting for someone in a back office to look at video of a play to decide if they want to challenge the call or not. More times than not, after bringing things to an unceremonious halt, the manager concludes the matter isn’t worth pursuing and passes on the chance to have faceless officials in New York review the play. So we try to recover our excitement about the moment and move on with the game.

On Thursday, St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny said that there have been multiple occasions this year when he’s asked for the video to be reviewed — but that the 20 seconds baseball allows for a decision to be made on whether or not to challenge expired before his crew could find an angle of the play that gave a definitive view. This means, not only was the stoppage in play a total waste of time, but that instant replay just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

Personally, I think instant replay should be scrapped in favor of a more rigorous reviewing of umpires’ performances. (Sorry, Angel Hernandez and C.B. Bucknor.) Simply put, Major League Baseball needs to review every game — the strike zone, the calls on the bases, fair and foul calls... the works. And if a particular umpire gets too many calls wrong over a period of time, they’re suspended as a warning. The next time they fail the test, they’re out.

Maybe the solution is MLB needs to move to a system of six umpires instead of four. An additional set of eyes on the foul lines just beyond first and third bases would allow umpires to better see fair and foul calls, plays at all the bases, catches (or traps) in the outfield and potential home run balls. They’d prevent the possibility that something occurred during a play that obscured the umpire in the usual position from seeing a vital element of the play. Plus, it would give the umpires a safety net. If they weren’t sure, instead of guessing, they could defer to the other umpire to see if they had a better view and get the call right the first time without a lengthy delay.

If the commissioners office fails to see that recommendation as an effective solution, they at least need to get rid of the endless 20-second time outs. Maybe MLB should go to a replay rule more like football: no video reviews. It’s a gut call, if you think the guy was out, you challenge the play right then and there. If the opposing hurler throws another pitch before you request a replay, your chance is lost. Limit the teams to one or two challenges a game and you’ve got the drama, the personality and the human element back in the game.

Instant replay is designed to prevent a game-changing horrific call from embarrassing baseball. It’s not there to create a robot umpiring system that takes the humanity out of the game. I think it’s a negative that instant replay has eliminated the age old tradition of an enraged manager running out on the field to protest what he believes is a bad call a la Earl Weaver or Leo Durocher. It’s like fighting in hockey: in polite company most people say they’re against such rude behavior. But when you’re at the ballpark and a batter from your team appears to leg out an infield single only to have the first base umpire punch him out ... and then your manager pops out of the dugout, turns his hat backwards and goes toe-to-toe with the offending ump, the crowd goes wild. It’s the part of the game everyone is talking about the next day around the water cooler.

For the love of Pete Alexander, stop messing with baseball and trying to make it “better.” Those of us who buy the tickets and show up at the stadium think the game is fine the way it is. (At least in the National League. Can we talk about getting rid of the goofy, cheap and graceless designated hitter next?)