Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Baseball and blown calls go hand in hand. It is 100% inevitable that your team has been either helped or hurt by a pair of human eyes and questionable judgement. It is simply a fact. The other fact is, just as Bob Dylan said they would, “the times they are a changin’ “.
Major League Baseball announced on Thursday that there would likely be some wide-sweeping changes to instant replay starting in 2014, the most interesting of which will be the managerial use of a challenge. Starting with the 2014 playoffs, a manager will be allowed one challenge over the first 6 innings of play, and two challenges from the 7th inning on. Challenges not used will not accumulate, and the proposal is to have a crew in New York City review using all camera angles available and send back the final verdict.
In a move much like the NFL, there will be a list of reviewable plays and non-reviewable plays. Managers can still kick dirt on an ump’s shoes for botching a call but has to respectfully ask the crew chief or home plate umpire when challenging a play. You get the idea, it seems pretty straight forward.
But as with anything, there are hiccups. Topping the list of interesting notes can be found in a LaTroy Hawkins quote, nonchalantly thrown into the middle of this ESPN.com article.
"“I don’t know what was the purpose of making an announcement,” Hawkins said. “Three parties have got to agree if I’m not mistaken, so what’s the purpose of making an announcement? Trying to put public pressure on us? No, it doesn’t work like that.”"
As with anything in major sports, all rules changes have to be approved not only by the league and owners, but by the players and umpire unions as well. This newfangled change is not even 1/3rd of the way to being a sure thing, and MLB is announcing it like they’ve saved the world. It is easy to side with Hawkins on this one, as it really smells like a political chess move to force public opinion on the players and umps to follow through with what the fans “want”. What we as fans “want” and what is truly best for baseball can often be two separate things.
The league went as far as to point out that fan favorites and former managers such as Tony La Russa and Joe Torre were heading up this reputable committee… “Well gee, if TLR and Torre ok’d it then the players and umps definitely have to follow suit, right?!”. Of course a committee headed up by two former managers are going to put more power into the dugout and take it off the field. And the teams and owners love it because it provides a hugely valuable marketing scheme to leverage $ out of. At any rate it is said that ~89% of all blown calls in the past few years could now be reversed with these proposed changes.
Don’t get me too wrong here, managerial challenges would definitely add an interesting twist to every game. It adds a new level of strategy to each inning, as a manager wouldn’t want to waste a challenge unless there is overwhelming reason to. But who is going to let him know when to use it and when to just go put emphasis on your P’s and S’s in Tim McClelland’s face? What gamesmanship could you throw in on this too? It is easy to imagine a manager challenging something, just to throw a minute and 15 second break into the opposing pitcher’s head that has developed into quite a groove against your team…
Baseball has always been a purist sport. It has long been one of the final hold-outs on the use of video and instant replay, instead choosing to rely on 8 well-trained eyeballs (or in the playoffs, 12). In fact, baseball is one of the last major sports (save for soccer) that almost entirely relies on humans to judge the game. This fact allows the players to decide the outcome in more situations than not!
Does it always work out in you or your team’s favor? No. But it (baseball) is not meant to be a perfect game. It is a game of the people, played by people, ran by people. Moving the game in this direction is slowly taking that edge away. Before long the umps will be nothing more than an actor with an earpiece, theatrically calling balls or strikes based on a buzz in his ear. Is that the type of baseball you would like to see? Maybe it is… maybe it isn’t.
This all hits just a little closer to home when we, as passionate Rockies fans, remember this one slide that changed the course of the franchise. Now let’s think about what could have happened if Bud Black had one challenge left that infamous night in 2007… where would the Rockies be today?