SAN JOSE -- What delightful news. Major League Baseball is finally serious about joining the 20th century.
Yes, the 20th century. For baseball, joining the 21st century will probably happen sometime in 2115. We must take what we can get.
And what we will get at long last, according to various reports, is expanded instant replay review. It will soon be instituted by Major League Baseball on a broad basis.
Of course, the game runs on Bud Selig Time. So the definition of "soon" becomes "sometime before Buster Posey retires and has grandchildren." The baseball commissioner is not known for instant karma.
Last autumn, at the World Series, Selig said it was likely there would be an expansion of MLB's replay policies by the 2013 season. Which means, of course, that it won't happen at all in 2013. It might happen by 2014.
So, cross your fingers. This month, a delegation from MLB's standards and practices division -- or whatever Selig calls it -- will be monitoring World Baseball Classic games to check out camera angles and other replay mechanics. A plan will be formulated. Then it will be presented to owners and the players' union for approval. That's how Joe Torre, now an MLB executive vice president, outlined the situation in Arizona this week.
"We're going to increase replay next year," Torre said. "We just don't know how we're going to go about it yet." Well, you can't rush things. It has been two-plus years since
Right then and there, as soon as the '85 Series concluded, baseball should have moved to institute instant replay -- but instead, it was the NFL and NHL that did so, shortly thereafter. We've had replay reviews in those sports for decades. There have been no fatalities. Oh, there have been disputes and a little grumbling here and there. The "tuck rule" imbroglio comes to mind. But all in all, people are generally satisfied with the system.
So, why hasn't baseball been more proactive? Because baseball is baseball. Tradition is important. The human umpiring element is part of the sport's fabric. Games would become slower with replay. No one wants slower games. That's what we always hear.
It's a crock. All of it.
In 2008, you might recall, MLB finally broke down and allowed minimal instant replay, to be used only on home run calls. It's been used solely to determine if balls are fair or foul, of if they've really cleared fences, or if fan interference has occurred. There have been no complaints over the past five seasons. No one has run away screaming from ballparks because nonhuman zombie video equipment has taken over the national pastime.
And yet, efforts to broaden the replay scope have been stymied. When the most recent player-management agreement was buttoned up in 2011, both sides assented to more replay reviews -- specifically to determine fair and foul balls everywhere on the field or to confirm if balls are trapped or caught.
However, MLB never moved to implement those changes or firm up the necessary approval from the umpires' union. So we wait. And wait. Meanwhile, in the NFL, replays have been incorporated smoothly into the game's integrity. Is it too cynical to suggest that if as many people bet on baseball as bet on football, replay changes in baseball would already have happened?
Yes, there are technical issues to be decided. That could happen in five minutes. We aren't talking about solving the debt crisis. One big question is whether baseball would use a coach/manager challenge system similar to the NFL, with two or three challenges per game -- or if an extra replay umpire would be stationed at each ballpark to look at each play in real time and decide if it's worth reviewing.
Check that decision off quickly. Go with the extra umpire. Managers shouldn't have to decide whether to use up their challenges in the first six innings or save them until later. The idea here is to get it right, no matter when the plays happen.
Another alleged hang-up: Should replay decisions be made at each ballpark by the umpires on duty, or by someone at MLB offices in New York who monitors the action and makes all the rulings? Check off that one, too. The NHL uses the central-command model, with replay officials stationed in Toronto. With today's technology, it hasn't been a problem. And it saves the on-site officials from having to leave the field and examine the video themselves.
Now, what else is left to figure out? Which plays are eligible for review? That might take longer than five minutes. It might take 10 minutes.
Balls and strikes? No. That truly would prolong games.
Close plays at the plate? Absolutely.
Force plays that are bang-bang? Of course.
Stolen base tags? Sure.
Catchers' or runners' interference? Probably not. Those are often judgment calls.
Balks? Go for it. Maybe we'd finally see some of them, if slowed down and examined.
Hit-by-pitch controversies? Why not?
Most calls are obvious. There wouldn't be as many replay reviews as you'd imagine. At most, it's two or three plays per game that come under scrutiny.
Also, as we have learned in the other sports, officials and umpires get it right far more than half the time. Replays would confirm this. Everybody would feel better about the game. The only shame is that it can't happen immediately. It's about time baseball entered a new replay era. Even if it's one from the last century.