A week into the Major League Baseball season, it's already clear that the new replay rules need some work.
From the bizarre wait in Oakland while Coco Crisp's walkoff homer was confirmed, to the travesty in Phoenix where an obviously blown call at the plate couldn't be challenged because Bruce Bochy had already lost an appeal, to the uneven application of replay on the new "blocking the plate" rule...I could go on.
But I won't. Instead, let me offer a few quick suggestions. If we're going to be stuck with the intrusion of video replay, let's at least make sure it's an aid to umpiring and not what it has already become: a strategic weapon.
First, eliminate the ridiculous idea of having an unseen employee lurking in the background tell a manager whether to challenge a call. Who thinks this is a good idea?
Dumping the "video adviser" job leads to my next suggestion: end the silly sight of a manager easing out of the dugout after a close play, constantly looking over his shoulder while he awaits his video guy's thumbs up/thumbs down recommendation on whether to challenge the call. My recommendation: if a manager steps on the field, he just triggered a challenge. Isn't the whole goal here to catch the obviously-blown calls? If so, a manager (aided by his players on the field) should be able to make an instant decision.
The "blocking the plate" call is a new one for plate umpires. The Giants should have been awarded a run in their season opener when Arizona's Miguel Montero clearly violated the rule. As it turned out, it didn't matter because Brandon Crawford scored anyway. But Crawford was forced into an awkward sprawl, exposing himself to injury because of Montero's violation. The play was never reviewed, but given the relatively small number of tag-at-the-plate plays and the potential for injury, shouldn't all such plays be reviewed?
We've learned that video review has its limits. The pickoff play in Phoenix that Bochy unsuccessfully challenged is a case in point. Giants video adviser Shawon Dunston told fans the next night that he still believed Matt Cain had the runner picked off. Several angles seemed to confirm that, but one was inconclusive. Is that enough to uphold a call?
I'm also troubled by the notion that the very possibility of a play being reviewed will alter the way the game is played. Case in point: Braves outfielder Justin Upton says he made a mistake by trying to play a ball that got stuck in the outfield padding. On that play, Nationals hitter Ian Desmond roared around the bases for an apparent inside-the-park home run. After review, he was sent back to second base; the unseen umps deciding the ball had been stuck in the padding. Right call--but it could have been made by a conference of umpires at the stadium. Instead, the message to Upton (and others) is: expect help from New York.
Replay advocates keep telling us the system will get better. Let's hope so. I think we'd all prefer to see managers worrying about late-inning matchups or defensive shifts rather than waiting for the video adviser to tell them which calls to challenge. Isn't any game better decided on the field?