Replay could use some tweaks, but the system needn’t be overturned

Red Sox manager John Farrell gestures after was was ejected by first-base umpire Bob Davidson on Sunday.

Kathy Willens/AP

Amid the furor over instant replay in baseball, I’d like to raise a few points.

1. A lot of us — fans, media, players, managers, team and league executives — argued for years that the sport needed to expand its replay system. This year, Major League Baseball spent millions of dollars to make that happen. To now criticize the in-game delays caused by replay would be disingenuous.

2. In the vast majority of cases this season, replay has resulted in correct outcomes and relatively little controversy. It just so happened that one blatant mistake (and another questionable reversal) occurred over the weekend under circumstances that tend to generate considerable media attention: a Red Sox-Yankees series in New York.

3. The stall/review/deliberation time — the pitch-to-pitch delay — needs to be shortened. I understand MLB’s interest in allowing communication with replay coaches, in an effort to better regulate the inevitable use of clever means of relaying messages. But manager-umpire chitchat while waiting for a dugout thumbs-up does not improve the product or fan experience.

The system ought to require managers to initiate a challenge — either verbally or by throwing a flag — within a more tightly controlled interval after a pitch. Baseball requires keen perception and immediate judgment of its players; managers should be no different. Managers should need to rely on skill and strategy with instant replay, not an unseen coach.

4. To follow up on that point, faster decisions by managers would lessen the time crunch on replay officials as they try to take an exhaustive look at the footage. I’m told that part of the issue in Saturday’s blown call in New York — the Dean Anna play — was that the replay official wasn’t completely clear on what Boston manager John Farrell was challenging.


The replay official knew that Farrell was challenging the "safe" call at second base . . . but the message wasn’t fully understood that the Red Sox agreed Anna beat the play initially before coming off the bag. It’s not clear where the communication broke down, but anyone who has watched the on-field theatrics of replay can imagine this game of "telephone."

In the end, communications to the New York replay center should be made more quickly (from the manager) and more clearly (from the on-field crew chief).

5. We need to accept one inherent shortcoming of this system: Managers are going to challenge calls way more often than an impartial observer would like.

As conceptualized by MLB commissioner Bud Selig, baseball’s expanded replay system was designed to fix massive, game-altering, and potentially championship-deciding mistakes (e.g., Don Denkinger and Jim Joyce). It was not designed for a bang-bang play at first base that is unclear even in slo-mo. But managers are going to deploy replay in those circumstances, because (a) such calls can change games and (b) their jobs are on the line each day.

Think about it: If asking someone to take a second look at something could save your job — or help you become incredibly wealthy and successful — you’d want them to do it, too. The stakes are high in this business; the heavy use of replay early this season is further evidence of that.

6. Finally, just a little more transparency would go a long way.

I’m sure part of Farrell’s frustration Sunday was the lack of a thorough explanation for why Saturday’s call was so obviously blown. And when a person of Farrell’s stature in the game suggests that he has lost faith in the system so quickly, MLB’s response needs to be greater transparency.

Here’s what I mean: It would not be difficult for MLB to tweet (or post on a blog) a brief account of why the replay umpire reached each decision during the course of a night. This could be accomplished at the end of that particular inning; the replay umpire would dictate his analysis of the play, and, after a quick transcription and edit by another MLB employee, fans everywhere could see the rationale behind the ruling.

Great news: At last check, @ReplayUmp is still available.