I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.
I feel the need to run out of my house and yell at someone. I feel like kicking some dirt on someone's shoes-- maybe look around for a base which I can pull out of the ground and toss across the lawn. You know what I am talking about-- that forgotten art of arguing a call which is as much a part of baseball as hot dogs and cotton candy.
I never liked the idea of instant replay in baseball from the moment it was introduced. Don't get me wrong-- I don't like to see any team, or anybody, get cheated. But there is a human element in baseball that is a part of the beauty of baseball.
The first memory that pops in my head of a blown call is Game 6 of the 1985 World Series where Kansas City's Jorge Orta was ruled safe by umpire Don Denkinger at first base on a routine groundball. He was clearly out. Kansas City would go on to win the game and the Series. The Cardinals got screwed.
If instant replay existed then, history books would record the St. Louis Cardinals as the 1985 World Champions, not the Kansas City Royals. Here is where I will I sound like a bit of a hypocrite. On a play like that, I'd be in favor of instant replay.
I can hear you know. What?!?! Let me explain.
I am in favor of instant replay, but to a very limited degree. This expanded replay stuff is too much. Here it is, nice and simple: Keep instant replay limited to home run or no home run, fair or foul, and force plays.
The one thing I definitely want to eliminate is tag play replays. There are rules that are unwritten rules in baseball. Instant replay looks to expose these unwritten rules. There are such things as "neighborhood" plays and "the ball beat the runner." I'm not about nit-picking.
Take Saturday's game between the Yankees and the Red Sox as an example. Yankee player Dean Anna doubled and easily beat the throw into second base. Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts held the tag on Anna as Anna rose to his feet and his foot lost contact with the base for a millisecond. The play was over. Anna wasn't trying to advance to another base. He had already established himself at second base.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was within his right to challenge the play. By the law of the book, Farrell should have won the challenge. It was clear as day. The Great and Powerful Oz in New York upheld the safe call, however. MLB later responded by saying that they were not privy to the replay that, apparently, all the networks had. How is that possible?
"It makes you scratch your head a little bit," Farrell would say after. "We had probably five angles that confirmed the foot was off the base."
That raises another problem I have with the system. Had Farrell not been told by some other Red Sox associate (janitor? equipment manager?) who has eyes glued to a TV, surely he would never have noticed Anna's foot barely leaving the base.
This brings me to the new normal-- the "stalling" tactic which has become a farce at games now. By now you should know what I am talking about. There is a close call at first base. Manager strolls out to talk to the umpire. There is no arguing. Manager has his hands in his back pockets. He swipes aside some blades of glass with his foot as he makes small talk with the umpire about the weather. The umpire smirks a little, knowing what the manager is up to. The manager looks over his shoulder at his bench coach in the dugout who is on the phone with someone who is checking the network feed of the replay. The bench coach will give a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The manager on the field informs the umpire if he wants to challenge or not, says, "Enjoy the rest of your day," and retires back to the dugout.
What, in the name of Earl Weaver or Billy Martin, are we doing here? Challenges are supposed to be done in a "timely manner." If you're going to come out of the dugout, it should be an automatic challenge. End of story. You feel that strongly that you are right? Was it that obvious? Challenge immediately! Don't wait to see the replay. You want to shorten games? Cut out this nonsense.
In tennis, a player needs to challenge right away. They can't even hit another shot during a rally. Tennis does it right.
My other big issue with MLB replay is tag plays. If the ball beats the runner to the base by a large margin, spare me all the super slo-mo of "Did the runner sneak his pinky in around the tag?" If the ball is there before the runner, and the fielder doesn't clearly miss the tag, the runner is out. Again-- end of story.
The perfect storm arises with plays at the plate. This is also the first year MLB has instituted restrictions on how catchers can block the plate with a runner attempting to score. Now, on a play at the plate, a manager can challenge if a catcher impeded a runner's access to the plate or if the catcher's swipe tag caught the runner in time. Hey, it's only the most important play in baseball-- you know, a scoring play. Yet, now there are so many technicalities which need to be met. It's almost like you need an attorney present and have to sign a contract in order to put a run up on the scoreboard. Shouldn't baseball be simpler?
The "neighborhood" play also bothers me. Notice the picture attached to this column. Ground ball to second base, throw to the shortstop at second base who then fires to first base to complete the double play. Does the shortstop always have his foot on the bag when he receives the throw from the second baseman? No. Again-- it is an unwritten rule, and it is the main reason why the "neighborhood" play does not fall under the umbrella of challengeable offenses. But why not? If MLB is going to be a stickler about everything else, why not this?
So here's my resolution. Managers get two challenges per game. Challenges need to be made immediately. If a manager steps foot on the field, the challenge is immediately charged.
Tag plays are off limits. Silly things like hit by pitches or foul tips in the dirt are off limits. Basically, the only things that can be challenged are fair or foul, home run or no home run, force out or no force out, and catch or no catch. I am open to deliberate more amendments, but not many. If a manager wants to use up his challenges on meaningless plays early in the game, I don't want to hear him complain about a missed call in a critical spot in the ninth inning. If Bruce Bochy wants to challenge a meaningless pick off play at first base in the second inning, I don't feel bad for him not having a challenge for a critical play at the plate later in the game.
There have been other mishaps. There have been instances when rulings have been delayed from New York because there have been simultaneous challenges going on in two different games (MLB can't hire two officials to work at their Replay Command Center?). There was a situation in Oakland where the umpires had to leave the field because the on-field headsets failed. There have been controversial rulings regarding what constitutes a catch (think Calvin Johnson in the NFL).
If you were to say to me get rid of instant replay all together, I wouldn't be against that, either. What's next? Where does it end? Are we going to have robots calling balls and strikes? Baseball is not that hard to umpire. It's a game. This is not rocket science.