COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Hello, 21st century, Major League Baseball finally is coming your way.
Baseball, which has largely resisted the technological advances of TV cameras, announced Thursday that it’s ready to embrace all-encompassing instant replay, adding it for the start of the 2014 season on nearly every questionable play but the strike zone.
Who knows what’s next in store, but the initial phase already is baseball’s most sweeping technological change since its first night game in 1935.
“It’s historic, there’s no question about it” Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said after the conclusion of the owners’ meetings here. “We did it in my usual slow process, but a good one.”
The replay proposal, which still must be approved by a formal vote of the owners in November, and agreed to by the Major League Baseball Players Association and umpires’ union, would cover plays that accounted for about 89(PERCENT) of the incorrect calls in the past, said Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz, who led an MLB study along with career baseball men Joe Torre and Tony La Russa.
And, if you can believe it, MLB says its replay system could speed up the game. Schuerholz said arguments over calls typically run longer than three minutes, but claimed the replays can be reviewed and decided in less than 90 seconds.
“That’s what they told us,” said one National League owner who asked not to be identified because the plan is still under consideration, “but I’ll believe it when I see it.”
This will be Phase 1 of baseball’s recovery program out of the dark ages, with MLB planning to review and modify the replay system, Schuerholz says, after the 2014 season.
“Of course I like it,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon says. “I like flat-screen TVs with high definition. I like air conditioning in my 1956 Bel Air. I like computers.
“That group that argues against technology and advancement, I challenge them to throw away all this stuff. Their microwaves, throw them away. To just bury your head in the sand and just reference old-school all the time is really a poor argument.
“This is our time to make the right decision. Live with it, understand it. It makes thing better, makes things more accurate, so what’s wrong with that?”
Schuerholz said the move is a “chance for baseball to dramatically reduce the number of incorrect calls that are made in any game that impacts the outcome of the game, and hence, the outcome of division races.”
It still has come nearly 30 years too late for former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog says, who still bristles at first-base umpire Don Denkinger’s blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Denkinger missed the call at first base in the ninth inning, enabling the Kansas City Royals to win the game, and a day later, the World Series.
Yet, it may help assure there are no more infamous blown calls, such as Jim Joyce’s missed call that ruled a Cleveland Indians runner safe with two outs in the ninth inning on June 2, 2010, ruining Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.
The replay system gives baseball managers three replay challenges a game. They will have one replay challenge available in the first six innings, and then two challenges beginning in the seventh inning through the game’s duration.
But sorry, managers will have no red flags to throw on the field to initiate challenges like NFL coaches.
“We thought about a red ball,” Schuerholz said, laughing.
Upon further review, baseball will go the old-fashioned route, with the managers still coming onto the field and alert the home-plate umpire.
Just like the NFL â(euro) “ which began replay in 1986 and went to its current system in 1999 â(euro) “ if a manager’s replay challenge is upheld, he will not be charged with a challenge. An umpiring crew will be allowed to call for its own review only to determine home-run calls â(euro) “ a rule that went into effect in 2008.
Yes, fans and the media will now have yet another way to second-guess managers â(euro) “ to challenge or not to challenge?
“Managers will have a new tool that they will have to learn how to use. They may have some wonderment, or consternation, perhaps,” Schuerholz said.
Well, before the managers begin their restless nights trying to decipher the art of the replay challenge, baseball still needs to get the umpires union to agree to the new system. The majority of umpires are strongly in favor of expanded replay, but with more technology, they want to make sure no jobs are eliminated. They want the replay booth to be manned by an active umpiring crew, not low-paid technicians.
“I can’t comment on it,” said Joe West, president of the world umpires association, told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s in the negotiating stages.”
Yet umpires love the idea that if there’s a blown call, a manager will be blamed for misusing his challenges, instead of umpires hearing their own names berated on sportscasts.
There’s only one blown call every five games, according to MLB’s research, but those blown calls have a shelf-life that can last a lifetime.
“The umpires are very, very receptive to this,” Schuerholz said. “They have spent enough time being abused or being the butt of bad comments about what’s happened, and what’s been viewed on replays.”
While Selig believes baseball will formally adopt replay Nov. 13 at their next quarterly meetings in Orlando, Fla., the owners still will have to make their own call on how much it’s worth. The start-up fees for the replay system will be $25 million to $40 million with annual fees, one MLB official told USA TODAY Sports, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak publicly about ongoing negotiations.
Yet, the owners were told that MLB will attempt to recoup a bulk of the annual operating costs with corporate sponsorship of the replays, minimizing the fees.
“Ultimately, I think it’s a good thing,” Oakland A’s infielder Jed Lowrie said. “It would be hard to argue with getting the call right. There’s no reason, with the technology we have, with the camera angles we can produce now, not to take advantage of it.”
And, for those who miss the days of Earl Weaver screaming into the faces of umpires and Lou Piniella throwing bases in the air, those temper tantrums won’t be eliminated.
“Arguments will be still part of the game,” MLB vice president La Russa told USA TODAY Sports, “we’re not going to eliminate that.”
Baseball, after all, still has a tradition to keep.