Replay system is getting positive reviews
MLB officials are pleased with process' first full week of action
Expanded replay has arrived in Major League Baseball, and no one seems to mind. In fact, after the first week, the best question could be what took so long?
Justice is being served daily around baseball, with disputed calls being submitted to the new Replay Operations Center at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York for electronic review by umpire crews. The process is still being smoothed out, but how can you complain about the quirks of the new system when it is proving to be effective in getting the most critical calls in a game correct?
Tony La Russa, who worked to design the system, says there have been fewer glitches in the process than "we had kind of assumed, you know?'' And it has been gratifying for all involved to see the system play a role in getting the outcome right in close games.
"More importantly, by my count, we've had four game-changers, which is exactly what this is supposed to do," La Russa said on Monday from St. Louis, where he was being honored at the Cardinals' home opener. "It's supposed to correct the big miss that gives one team a break and takes something away from another. That's exactly what it has been doing."
Commissioner Bud Selig shares La Russa's enthusiasm for how well the new system is working. He has heard discussion about the process, including how managers come out of the dugout to stall while staffers examine the first replays to decide if a challenge is warranted, but he's as excited as he was watching the first Wild Card races or Interleague games.
"Don't forget, it's the first week," Selig said on Monday. "I think we're off to a very good start. Most importantly, our fans are enjoying it."
Have you noticed something missing from games this season? You should have, although the baseball itself has been so compelling that it's easy to overlook.
With managers being able to challenge most calls or at least ask umpires for a review after the sixth inning, nobody has been blowing their top. In fact, entering games on Monday, there had not been a single player or manager ejected.
La Russa believes this speaks to the nature of the modern manager as well as to the implementation of replay.
"Things have changed," La Russa said "Think about the days of Earl [Weaver], Billy [Martin]. How many managers can you think of now among the 30 who have [quick tempers] like that? There are times you expect guys to lose their minds, and it rarely happens."
If any manager could have lost his mind over replay in the first week, it would have been the Giants' Bruce Bochy. He is one of the few to have the new system turn into an exploding cigar on him.
Bochy used his manager challenger to appeal that the D-backs' A.J. Pollock had been picked off first base with two outs in the fourth inning of a game on April 1. The umpire's safe call was deemed to stand upon review, which meant Bochy was out of challenges. Coaches can also encourage umpires to initiate a review, but not until after the sixth inning, so Bochy's hands were tied two batters later when Pollock was ruled safe at the plate on a passed ball when replays showed Matt Cain had tagged him out.
"We're not trying to make all of this robotic," La Russa said. "The goal isn't to try to get everything right. That would slow the game down. ... A manager has to use his gut and decide when it really matters, when a play is worth fighting for, and then I'd encourage him to go out and make sure that he is heard."
A scenario such as the one with Pollock was one of the top concerns by those in the process when it was determined managers would get only one incorrect challenge in the first six innings. That limitation -- like everything else in the process -- will likely be reviewed after the season, but the Pollock case alone isn't enough to make MLB feel managers need a second review.
However, it's possible that in the future all run-scoring plays could be subject to review.
According to MLB's research, 16 calls were overruled in the first week of replay. The system was used in 35 of 92 games, with an average time of review two minutes and 15 seconds. Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, has said the goal is to have the process take only 1:30.
Selig watches that closely and tasked his replay committee to make reviews as quick as possible.
He's thrilled with how smoothly the process is working, and points to time of game over the weekend.
Twenty-one of 29 nine-inning games were played in under three hours, with five going less than 2:40 -- and Mark Buehrle wasn't even pitching.
The quickest game was a two-hour, 22-minute duel between the Mariners' Felix Hernandez and the Athletics' Dan Straily on Saturday. The focus there was on the pitchers, not the umpires, and that's where Selig wants it to be.
There were, of course, some players who didn't agree with balls and strikes. There's always going to be some barking about the judgment of umpires, and there will be ejections. But MLB is trying harder than ever to get the calls right, and it's working out.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.