Because baseball games are not long enough, 2014 brings with it the promise of a new instant replay challenge system. As you can guess from my first sentence, I am against the idea. I’m not anti-technology, and if any sport can automate their officials out of existence that is fine with me. In baseball’s case for instance, why can’t a GPS-like technology replace home plate umpires? And if the powers that be think it is so important to get things right so that there is a “fair” winning team, that is the place to start. A baseball game includes pitch after pitch, and an erratic strike zone creates a much more uneven playing field than one random play on the field. Yet baseball is putting in a system to safeguard a potential issue with a random play and purposely ignoring every pitch made in the game. Balls and strikes are off limits. Ha.
No, what is being introduced this spring is a challenge system, based on the “successful” system in football. In the NFL, coaches have the ability to challenge a play, and then play is halted for about half an hour while the officials run off the field to agonize over whether one quarter of a player’s toe was in or out of bounds when the player caught the ball. Or some other variation of minutia. Eventually they secretly flip a coin, come out, and announce a call. And the upshot becomes that the type of fan who likes to whine that every game their team loses is the fault of the officials now has to shift gears and blame the replay official rather than the folks on the field.
But at least the football system carries repercussions for frivolous challenges. A coach who loses a challenge loses a timeout, something that can be very important in an NFL game, a sport with a clock. The fan has a chance to win with that rule in place, too, as any timeout lost can possibly offset some of the dead time that comes from the review. But the big thing is the NFL recognized that there had to be a penalty for getting it wrong. Baseball has now emulated everything about the rule except for this huge component.
In the baseball challenge system, you get two challenges per game. If you blow the first one you lose the second one. But what if you blow the second one? Nothing happens, there is no penalty. Well, I know modern baseball and I know managers, and I know where this is heading. Ron Darling does too, and he said it right away on Thursday. Darling mentioned the very real fact that if a manager still has a challenge in his pocket in the sixth inning, he might use it just to kill time to allow someone in the bullpen more time to warm up. Because there are no repercussions. Great, just what baseball needs, more tools for managers to stall the action.
Baseball is not football. There are 162 games in a season, not 16, and it is unreasonable to have rules that treat each one like the seventh game of the World Series. Why not give each team an annual allotment of challenges, say 50 per year, and if you use it you lose it? And then add the penalty of losing one more if you are wrong. That would give teams plenty of chances to make sure they do not lose a game due to a dreadful call. There have been baseball seasons where I watched all 162 Mets games and I can’t think of any year where anything near 50 calls stood out.
This would add more strategy to the use of challenges but more importantly add accountability and make abuse more difficult. I don’t see any value in more useless downtime.
Of course, I’m not selling commercial time, which makes me wonder. Is the goal getting calls right, or having more spots for advertisements? I can already hear Gary Cohen stating that “this challenge is brought to you by Citi.”
What I can’t see is how the game of baseball has been improved.