Expanded replay isn’t perfect, but it’s a start

I can’t believe I’m about to turn into an apologist for Commissioner Bud Selig, but only in an age of instant analysis could fans and media clamor for expanded replay, then tear apart a plan for expanded replay virtually seconds after it is announced.

Anyone care to see the forest for the trees?

Baseball finally is entering the 21th century, finally embracing technology, finally acknowledging that fans no longer want to hear about the human element when they can view HD replays on everything from their smart phones to their big-screen TVs.

Selig balked at expanded replay, resisted it for as long as possible. Now, suddenly, he is offering a radical proposal from three of the game’s most respected elders — Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz and former managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. And people still are unhappy.

I understand the questions: Why limit the number of replays? Why not try to get all of the calls correct? Why allow the managers and not the umpires to initiate reviews?

But no one should view the initial plan — one manager’s challenge per team in the first six innings, two from the seventh inning on — as anything close to final. It’s more like a first draft — and quite possibly, a first step toward a practical solution.

The proposal must be approved by A) the owners in November; B) the umpires’ union and C) the players’ union. The umpires might want greater control, the ability to review certain plays even if managers run out of challenges. The players’ union might say, “Let’s not place greater weight on missed calls at the end of games. Let’s make it three per team per game — period.”

Such points are worthy of discussion, if not outright negotiable. And even after all sides reach agreement — something baseball wants to happen before the 2014 season — the adopted plan will be subject to testing, perhaps in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps in spring training, perhaps in other forms.

No one in baseball is under any illusions that the plan will be foolproof; two high-ranking officials said Thursday they fully expect changes to be implemented after the first season and perhaps after subsequent seasons as well. Replay is problematic for baseball, which lacks the natural pauses of football. But at least the game’s top executives are open-minded, prepared to address any flaws that arise.

Now, back to the decision to allow managers to initiate reviews. Well, the trigger for replay has to come from somewhere, and the managers were sort of the lesser of three evils. The other two options were the umpires on the field and officials in replay booths. And from baseball’s perspective, those options were even less appealing.

Officials in replay booths would carry enormous responsibility and face the difficult task of deciding which calls merited reviews and which ones did not. Baseball couldn’t tell such officials, “Just look at extremes.” Each official likely would have his own definition of “extreme” — and the temptation for such an official to put even borderline calls in that category would be high.

What if the umpires held the trigger? Hoo boy, there might be even more arguments than there are now. Managers constantly would ask the umpires to go to replay. At some point certain umpires would refuse, out of either ego or pride. And if later replays showed one of those umpires to be wrong, the uproar would make Selig’s ears ring.

Of course, giving the managers the trigger — and limiting their number of challenges — is not ideal, either. It’s easy to picture a manager running out of challenges, then seeing his team lose on a blown call that could not be reviewed. A serious flaw, no doubt. But think about it: How often would it actually come into play?

According to one baseball official, studies show that a challenge likely would be necessary only once every 1 1/2 or two games. Yes, it’s possible that a manager would use three in one game (hello, Angel Hernandez!). It’s also possible that a manager might go several games without using one.

What about giving an umpire the discretion to review a play even after a manager runs out of challenges? Sounds logical enough. But if baseball wants to do that, it might as well give managers unlimited challenges. And the problem with giving managers unlimited challenges is that our dear skippers almost certainly would abuse the privilege.

Again, nothing is perfect. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. But baseball needed to do something, needed to prevent future postseason games from getting decided by bad calls, needed to avoid seeing those calls replayed over and over again by ESPN, MLB Network and, as of Saturday — shameless plug alert — Fox Sports 1.

Selig is relenting. Expanded replay is coming. Baseball is moving toward a better if still imperfect place.

Forest for the trees, people. Forest for the trees.