Photo Credit: Keith Allison
By: Matthew Cali on September 12, 2013
In a move that attempts to bring the nation’s pastime into the modern era, Bud Selig, along with representatives from all 30 MLB teams, met in Cooperstown, NY and decided that starting in the 2014 season, instant replay reviews may be used to overturn challenged calls. The recommendation by the Commissioner’s Office does not mean instant replay is instantly installed. Per the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement, the change must receive approval by the players’ association, umpires union, and seventy-five percent of the owners. Despite making a move in the right direction, the challenge system will ultimately fail approval and a “booth review” system should ultimately be instituted.
The Proposed System
Up until now, instant replay in the MLB could only be used to determine “whether [potential home runs] are fair or foul, whether they have left the playing field, or whether they have been subject to fan interference.” Under the proposed rule changes, managers will be allotted one challenge over the first six innings and then two more challenges from the seventh inning through the end of the game. When a call is challenged, the play will be reviewed by an umpire crew in the MLB headquarters in New York City and a final ruling will be made. Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz, a member of the MLB Commissioner’s Office Replay Subcommittee, explained that about “89 percent of incorrect calls made in the past will be reviewable” under the new system.
Is This the Solution?
Despite the optimism by the MLB, the current proposal will not solve the recent outcry to implement instant replay in more MLB games. The proposal may encourage more demand for change because of the limited amount of challenges per game, the potential for umpires’ performance to partially dictate their compensation, and the lack of consistency in making calls.
The MLB has been subject to much scrutiny in its limited use of instant replay and signed off on this proposal to answer the critics’ desire for expanded replay. However, the “challenge” structure will cause more hullabaloo than it will suppress. The proposed rules merely shift the burden of applying the instant replay review from the umpires to the managers. Managers must strategically decide when to use their reviews and when to save their reviews for later plays. Further, there may be more than three incorrectly called plays that require challenges that can significantly alter the course of the game and MLB history. In this respect, there will be “bad calls overlooked unnecessarily . . . which makes no sense.”
Further, umpires will still make the same judgment calls for all plays; however, their decisions will be reviewable by an outside crew of umpires. Thus, the call on the field is almost always subject to a challenge to a higher authority and will not always be the call that stands. This severely damages an umpire’s credibility on the field and may result in a structure where ultimately an umpire’s employment and advancement can be tied to the rate at which his calls are overturned.
Finally, the proposed plan for instituting instant replay may result in inconsistent calls by umpires. In the NFL, instant replay is not allowed for judgment calls, such as pass interference calls and holding calls. In the MLB, many judgment calls will be made reviewable. Whether an umpire thinks the runner is safe or out or whether a fly ball was caught or trapped against the ground are both scenarios where the umpire’s interpretation of the play dictates the call. Thus, a challenge system will not work in the MLB because in the NFL, judgment calls cannot be challenged. This will remove almost the entire human element from the game because each call will be subject to review.
Tossing Out Challenges and Subbing in Booth Reviews
It is unlikely the MLB will obtain the approval from the Players Association and the umpire union because the challenge system removes much of the human element of the game and leaves a flawed system where some calls are corrected, while others are not. The typical double-play ball is a classic example where an umpire traditionally calls a player out at second even when the defenseman does not step on the bag prior to throwing the batter out at first. The defenseman does this largely to avoid any collision with the base-runner and the umpire almost always calls the base-runner out. If this is subject to review, will the umpire be correct in using his judgment in calling the base-runner out? The constant second guessing and potential overruling of calls will deter umpires from approving the challenge system.
Similarly, players are not likely to support the proposed challenge system. The reason players are in favor of expanded instant replay is to help officiating crews consistently make correct calls on every play of the game; not to hope for some correct calls, while letting incorrect calls slide. Challenges may only be used a limited amount of times and will severely slow the tempo of the game. Once a manager uses all of his challenges, he may just go out and argue calls “the old-fashioned way” and increase tension between managers, umpires and players. In short, the challenge system sets up the game to become slower and more controversial.
The MLB should not proceed with its proposed manager challenge system and should institute an instant replay system where every play is reviewed by an umpire in between each dead ball by an additional member to the umpiring crew located in a booth at the stadium on game day, just as is done in college football. This will prevent the limitations on the amount of challenges by the managers and ensure that each call is given a thorough check. Each stadium can have an additional umpire that will call down to umpiring crew chief stating whether each call was made correctly. In an effort to prevent excessive arguing and the appearance of umpire incompetence, the umpiring chief, when it is necessary, can call a timeout. During this timeout, the umpiring chief may explain to the other umpires what decision was made and make a definitive, correct call. This would not slow the game and will ensure that both teams enjoy the benefit of the correct calls on all plays. Unfortunately, the challenge system will be resisted by the Players Association and the umpire union and it must be altered in order for the MLB to continue its modernization of baseball.
 See MLB to Expand Instant Replay in 2014, ESPN (Aug. 15, 2013 2:52 PM), http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/9570618/mlb-expands-instant-replay-2014-include-manager-video-challenges (explaining changes proposed by MLB Commissioner’s Office that need to still be approved by players association and umpires’ union).
 See Paul Hagen, MLB to Expand Instant Replay in 2014, MLB (Aug. 15, 2013 2:16 PM), http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/mlb-expand-instant-replay-2014-19970354 (noting according to MLB CBA, approval must be given by owners, as well as players association and umpires’ union); see also Ben Nicholson-Smith, CBA Details: Luxury Tax, Draft, HGH, Replay, MLBTradeRumors.com, (Nov. 22, 2011 2:15 PM), http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/11/cba-details-luxury-tax-draft-.html (detailing CBA provision requiring players association and umpire union to approve additional use of instant replay in MLB games).
 See Gil Imber, MLB Instant Replay: Controversy in 2011, BleacherReport.com (Sept. 28, 2011), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/869098-mlb-instant-replay-controversy-in-2011 (providing currently instituted instant replay system).
 See MLB to Expand Instant Replay in 2014, supra note 1 (detailing challenge system guidelines).
 See id. (providing explanation regarding who will be reviewing each challenged call).
 See id. (giving statistical analysis regarding what percentage of plays would be reviewable under new system).
 See Craig Calcaterra, MLB’s Proposed Expanded Replay to Include a Challenge System. This Is Idiotic, NBCSports.com (Aug. 15, 2013 9:34 AM), http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/08/15/mlbs-proposed-expanded-replay-to-include-a-challenge-system-this-is-idiotic/ (quoting author arguing that it “is absolutely stupid” to put burden of making proper calls on managers).
 See Buster Olney, Twitter (Aug. 15, 2013 1:04 PM EST), https://twitter.com/Buster_ESPN (explaining inadequacies of proposed challenge system at addressing problem of making correct calls). “What’s the point of developing a replay system in which bad calls are accepted, rather than corrected? It makes absolutely no sense.” Id.
 See John Kelly, How NFL Review Rules Work, HowStuffWorks.com, http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/nfl-review-rules.htm (last visited Aug. 18, 2013) (detailing rules of NFL instant replay including what can and cannot be challenged).