NESN Debates: How Should Major League Baseball Use Instant Replay?

NESN Debates: How Should Major League Baseball Use Instant Replay? Editor's note: Each week, NESN.com's editorial staff will debate a topic via email in a feature called "Field Judges." We'll post the conversation and the ruling on NESN.com.

This week's question: How should Major League Baseball use instant replay?

Ricky Doyle, Assistant Editor, 9:29 p.m., Monday:

Hello all,

It's time for me to use this marvelous technology known as e-mail to ask for your two cents as part of this week's "Field Judges." We've already weighed in on Tiger Woods' transgressions, whether we we'd prefer if Cam Newton sinks or swims and called certain Little Leaguers "losers" (I'm looking at you, Mr. Hurley). But this week, I think it's time we return to Major League Baseball action and discuss an area that was the subject of much debate before it was eventually implemented at the tail end of the 2008 season: the use of instant replay.

I think this is a perfect time to debate how exactly it should be used in baseball in the wake of the incident at Fenway on Monday afternoon. David Ortiz hit a rocket down the right-field line that appeared to be fair but was called foul by umpires. Under the current replay rules, the play wasn't reviewable and the foul call was upheld after the umpires came together to discuss it. Given how quirky some parts of Fenway are, it's understandable that an ump can miss a call from time to time, begging the question as to whether replay should be expanded. Currently, only boundary home runs calls can be reviewed.

So I pose this head-scratcher to you: How should Major League Baseball use instant replay?

Ponder it. Walk away. Ponder it some more. I'll be anxiously awaiting your responses.

Nick Koop, Intern, 9:46 p.m., Monday:

Make it like football : two challenges for each manager per game. Heck, maybe even just one challenge per game. Baseball games take up enough time as it is, so any form of expanded replay that doesn't extend the length of the game is ideal. While I'm all for getting calls right, baseball games should not take longer than they currently do. I can't think of something better than allowing coach's challenges.

They could be used on out/safe calls, fair/foul calls, catch/no catch and home runs. They would obviously not be allowed to be used on balls and strikes.

There are definitely some kinks to work out, though. For instance, in the case of Ortiz, if the play ends up being overturned, do you send Ortiz to second automatically? What happens if there's a runner on first and he was going to try and score? Do you make him stop at third?

In this instance, it seems like it'd be best to treat it like a ground-rule double. But not every fair/foul call would be this easy to judge (presumably). Other than that, reviewing force plays and tags should be pretty straightforward.

Having the ability to challenge also eliminates (theoretically) the need for managers to argue with umps. Got a problem with the call? Challenge it.

Ben Watanabe, Assistant Editor, 8:04 a.m., Tuesday:

While the NFL deserves credit for being the most proactive professional league in implementing instant replay, its challenge system is idiotic. Basically, the NFL's logic is, "We want to get the call right, provided the coach has saved up his challenges and provided the refs didn't blow so many calls earlier in the game that the coach had to use up all his challenges in the third quarter."

Borderline home runs, borderline foul/fair balls and close outs on the bases should be reviewable. I don't want to see a computerized strike zone or managers throwing challenge flags because they think the umpires missed a balk.

Michael Hurley, Senior Assistant Editor, 8:34 a.m., Tuesday:

If MLB does institute expanded replay, it can be so simple that a casual fan might not even notice it. You just have one guy up in the press box with access to replay technology. Give the managers a challenge or two per game, and the ump points up to the press box. That replay official then watches the replay and gives the signal (either with his hands or through some sort of communication with the on-field umpire, doesn't matter), and the game goes on. The whole process could take 15-20 seconds.

The way they do it now, where three umpires jog off the field and cram into the dugout tunnel to watch footage that obviously shows a home run is just stupid. The Benny Hill theme should be played whenever they make their little scamper off the field. Does it require three sets of eyes to see in slow-motion and high definition that a ball went over a wall or didn't go over a wall?

As for the issue of where to send the runners, etc., the game is already chock full of silly rules where an umpire has to make such a call, so adding replay wouldn't be all that different.

Just make sure you don't give the managers any challenge flags, because A, that would be foolish and unnecessary, and B, I wouldn't trust Ozzie Guillen to not go headhunting.

John Beattie, Associate Editor, 8:52 a.m., Tuesday:

I couldn't agree with Mike Hurley more. With today's technology, there's no reason why this process shouldn't be used and should take any more than 20 seconds if used. Give the umps unlimited challenge opportunities and offer teams one challenge request per game.

Furthermore -– and this is easier said than done — instruct umpires to be more aggressive with borderline fair/foul and home run calls, leaning heavily toward making calls that result in allowing the play to continue. For example, instruct umps toward making calls that benefit the offense, such as the "blown call" on David Ortiz's Scotts Lawn Care sign on Monday afternoon.

Call that balls fair, let it play out, then review. Better to let the Big Fella chug around to second (or third even) and then go upstairs to review and fix any potential mistake than to call it foul, kill the play and have a big "oops" moment after which you can't fix it.

Erik Frenz, Intern, 8:56 a.m., Tuesday:

There's no reason not to implement instant replay on a wider scale. Everyone sitting at home watching Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game knew that he finished the job except for the only guy that mattered — the ump who made the call. It would have taken a total of 20 seconds worth of replay to fix that call.

The only problem, and potential argument against instant replay is that baseball games take so long as it is. So, the solution is simple: implement instant replay and one or two other rules that will help the pace of the game.

There are at least a couple of ways to make the games take significantly less time. Limit the number of times a catcher can go to the mound or set a time limit between pitches (though Jonathan Papelbon might be more than a little upset). Either would allow for further use of instant replay without making a game take four hours.

Ben Watanabe, 9:27 a.m., Tuesday:

I wonder if we'd all be so pro-replay if we'd posed this question before the Red Sox were hosed out of a pivotal run on Monday? Hmmm…

Beattie's right about erring on the side of letting the situation play out, then reviewing. They already do this in the NFL (There's way too much NFL praising going on right now for my tastes).

Mike Hurley, 9:34 a.m., Tuesday:

The NFL definitely shouldn't be seen as the model. Its system is as flawed as any. A replay on every scoring play? It's brutal. How about the delay of several minutes during the Patriots game on Sunday as the referee pored over the replay of an extra point?! An extra point! The NFL is lucky that we are all so obsessed with its product, because the replay system is killing us slowly.

And when you look at the NBA's, I don't even know how that system got passed. If you hit a 3, and the game continues on for another few minutes before a commercial break, the referees can go back in time with video review and change your 3-pointer to a 2-pointer. Then the score changes, and your team loses a point, even though you've been playing for several minutes under the assumption that the score was different than it actually was. It's like The Butterfly Effect or Inception or The Adjustment Bureau or some other crazy movie that's hard to follow. That's just not a good system.

So I'll use this as a rare opportunity to heap some praise on the NHL. Yes, in this one, rare instance, the NHL can say it offers a superior solution than any of its pro counterparts. Goal reviews are thorough and have a near-100 percent accuracy rate. And that's whether the call is made within the building or if it goes to the league office in Toronto (My dream job, by the way, is sitting in front of 12 TVs in Toronto, mowing down doughnuts all night and telling someone on the phone whether a puck crossed a line. Call me, Gary!). It's quick, it's painless and it's done by someone whose only job is to look at replays for a living. Let's eliminate the on-field official from the equation, and it speeds everything up.

That right there is probably the nicest paragraph I've ever written about a league that constantly messes everything up, so you know that's a pretty serious recommendation.

Ben Watanabe, 9:43 a.m., Tuesday:

Speaking of movies that are hard to follow, has anyone seen Sucker Punch? It's a hallucination inside a hallucination, and the result is an absolutely terrible movie. On the hierarchy of instant replay systems as time-travel/reality-bending movies, MLB is Sucker Punch, NBA is The Butterfly Effect, NFL is Back to the Future (If it were to come out now, you'd say it was completely ridiculous, but it's an original and a classic and it's influenced all the other ones that have come out since).

Ricky Doyle, 12:30 a.m., Wednesday:

Ah, the cinema: America's ongoing love affair with the motion picture (Arthur Spooner, King of Queens). Well, considering I typically don't see movies until about 10 years after their release (Think TBS' "Movies, For Guys Who Like Movies"), some of these references are falling on deaf ears — the exception, of course, being Back to the Future.

But what's not falling on deaf ears is this talk of instant replays. And it's become abundantly clear to me that no one is a fan of the "human element," which was so widely discussed prior to the first implementation of replay in baseball. I'm typically a believer that if the technology is there to get a call right, then utilize it. At the same time, though, I can't foresee extending instant replay in baseball too much beyond its current state because there are simply too many bang-bang plays over the course of a game. If replay were extended to be considered for all close plays, picking and choosing which particular plays to review (in one way or another) would likely create a debacle in and of itself.

In a Time Magazine article in June 2010 after Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game, Paul Hawkins, the British artificial intelligence Ph.D. who founded the Hawk-Eye replay system, which has been used to determine ins and outs calls in tennis, discussed the possibility of using the system in baseball.

"With the right technology, any dispute can be resolved definitively, accurately and immediately," he said.

In other words, the technology is there (not just in the form of traditional replays, but also in the form of ball-tracking systems) to get virtually every call right over the course of a game. But I think most would agree that strictly the use of computers would create its own set off problems, one of which would be taking away any sense of flow — which is already a major turn-off for some fans when it comes to baseball.

So, really I think it comes down to which plays you think are simply too important to leave solely in the hands of the on-field umpires. It's weird to say one play is more important than another in baseball, a game that relies so heavily on numbers and matchups, but Major League Baseball ultimately decided that home runs were the most worthy of review. I tend to agree, but I'd also consider fair/foul reviews, although none of which should involve coach's challenges.

I think anything beyond that (safe/out calls, balls/strikes, etc.) would slow the game to the point where it would make the Slowskys look like Usain Bolt and, therefore, should remain untouched when it comes to the use of replay.

Mike Cole, Assistant Editor, 6:12 p.m., Wednesday:

Has anyone watched the last couple of games? Doyle and I have been in the office for both marathon monstrosities, and I have to say that I'm incredibly skeptical about anything that would add more gametime to a baseball game. We were approaching four hours each night, and the product was barely watchable. So you definitely have to make sure you use replay in the most efficient way as to not add on even more game time.

However, if a game is going to last four hours, what's a few more minutes to make sure you get things right? As long as protocol doesn't require Joe West isn't doesn't have to go out to the Bleacher Bar to sit down, have a beer and review the play, I'm cool with just about everything at this point.

RULING

While the length of Major League Baseball games is always an issue, there appears to be no reason why the league can't implement a form of expanded replay that not only allows for the correct calls to be made, but also allows them to be made in a timely manner. If there were to be someone designated specifically for replays, the system could be expanded to fair/foul calls at the least — which is probably as far as the system should expand. In questionable situations, it would be wise for the umpire to let a play unfold before signaling to the designated replay person for a review of the play. Such a system would eliminate much of the on-field confusion (arguments, umpires going down into the clubhouse for reviews, etc.).

In other words, if the technology's there, use it and get the call right…Oh yeah, and steer clear of movies that are hard to follow. They'll only make your head spin.

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