Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Wrong turn on replay

We’ve known for a while that MLB was considering an expansion of its currently limited use of instant replay and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig revealed their plans at a press conference last week.

It wasn’t feasible for MLB to continue to use video evidence only for fair/foul home run calls, as they have done since September 2008, as it only served to increase the frustration and fury of teams at every other crucial incorrect decision made.

Expanding it to other calls is therefore an improvement; however the proposal, which still has to be agreed but seems likely to be in effect for the start of next season, has little else going for it.

MLB didn’t want every potentially debatable call to be reviewed so it was inevitable that the sport would go down the route of allowing challenges. We’ve seen in the Ashes this summer what a mockery they can make of the game.

One of the compelling reasons for using technology is to reduce the occasions when the post-game chatter is not about a skilful pitching display, a timely piece of hitting or a dazzling fielding play, but focused on an incorrect umpiring decision.

Sadly now we’ll have nights when everything gets overshadowed by discussions over a manager’s use – or non-use – of a replay challenge. Maybe some will see that as an addition to the tactical side of the game, but it’s more akin to a game show than sport in my eyes.  MLB might as well introduce a ‘double runs in a half-inning’ joker card to go alongside it.

The ridiculous nature of challenges will be increased in baseball through the arbitrary allocation of three challenges per team: one challenge in the first six innings, two in the final three innings.

It won’t necessarily be the case that the game-defining decision takes place in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. A team may make a reasonable, but ultimately incorrect, challenge in the second inning and then suffer an absolute howler of a decision with bases loaded in the sixth that they cannot do anything about.

It doesn’t matter that the team could have had a chance to challenge the call. It is the umpiring crew’s responsibility to make the decisions and it shouldn’t be incumbent on the managers to know when and when not to use a challenge. The whole point of introducing instant replay is to get the key decisions right, not to create a silly gimmick.

Personally, I would have left it up to the umpires to decide when they were not completely sure on a tight call (as in rugby, admittedly a very different game, or cricket umpires checking if the ball went for a 4 or 6 etc). There may be cases when an umpire faces criticism for not reviewing a decision, and perhaps a ‘safety-first’ approach may creep in to cover this, but it keeps the process among the umpires and ensures that they are still completely accountable for their decision-making, good or bad.

The new system should lead to some cases of teams getting wrong decisions overturned and that’s a good thing; however I have a bad feeling that the overall effect on the game is going to be a negative one.

Manuel moved aside

Charlie Manuel will be hoping he gets a chance to use the new challenge system next season, although that seems doubtful after he was sacked by the Philadelphia Phillies.

The 69-year-old was out of contract at the end of this season and the club clearly were not planning to extend his nine-year tenure at the helm.  A run of 19 losses from 23 games had left the Phillies a long way off the playoff pace and General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. decided to install Ryne Sandberg as manager rather than leave Manuel in charge the rest of the way.

Sandberg has taken on the role on an interim basis and Amaro no doubt is hoping his desire to win the job on a permanent basis will help to light a fire under the team.

As for Manuel, his country drawl and portly appearance – a classic example of how jarring, and slightly humorous, it can be for Brits to see veteran managers suited up in full uniform, however unflattering the look – were part of what made him a likeable character. For Phillies fans, he was the man who guided them to only their second World Series triumph in the team’s 131 history and presided over a five-year domination of the NL East division after years of seeing the Atlanta Braves riding high.

Manuel wants to manage again next season, although the market for 70-year-old managers is not particularly strong.

Amaro’s tears as he announced Manuel’s departure called to mind ex-Newcastle owner Freddy Shepherd’s comments in 2004 that sacking Sir Bobby Robson made him feel like ‘the man who shot Bambi’. In Amaro’s case, he may find the root of some of the sadness in roster decisions made in recent years that have left the team with an ageing and increasingly injured core.

 

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