Before the start of the baseball season, you heard it from everyone. Fans, players, coaches, radio and TV know-it-alls, and even umpires. The new instant replay rule will be a great thing for baseball. “Every other sport has replay”, they said. “Baseball is finally catching up with technology”, they said. “It's about getting the call right”, they said. Three weeks into the season, and it seems the new rule has created more problems than it has solved.
If you are not familiar with this new wrinkle to the national pasttime that someone said is the biggest change since the advent of night games, each manager can challenge a call made on the field once during a game. The field umpires will be given headsets, and will listen to a crew in New York look at a replay and make the final determination. If the managers wins his challenge, he gets one more. That's the oversimplified explanation, but for our purposes, it will do.
Almost everything is reviewable, except for balls and strikes, and the so-called 'neighborhood play' at second base where the second baseman or shortstop might not exactly get the foot on the bag before making a throw to first. Knowing that umpires would be crucified (Sorry. Poor choice of words after Easter weekend) on that call, baseball decided to leave it out. Runners go sliding into second to break up a potential double play, and often times can take the fielder with them. A rule is a rule, and it says you are supposed to touch the bag, but umpires let it slide in the name of safety.
The most comical thing about the new rule so far, is that a team's clubhouse television seems to be more conclusive than MLB's several-million dollar 'command center' in New York. A manager will go out to argue a call, and will look to his dugout for a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on whether to challenge or not. If he gets the go-ahead from his video guy, he challenges, and New York looks at it. If the manager gets a thumbs down, he tells the umpire 'nice call' and goes back and sits down. Not nearly as entertaining as a nose-to-nose argument, but about equally as stupid.
But even if the challenge is made, that doesn't mean New York will get it right (I picture a bunch of beer-drinking college kids in the MLB Fan Cave making the decision, but supposedly its a full umpiring crew reviewing every angle). During a nationally televised Red Sox-Yankees game, Boston manager John Farrell challenged a call where Jacoby Ellsbury stole second base. He was called safe, but the replay clearly showed that Ellsbury came off the bag while the tag was still being applied. Farrell's video guy saw it, a national audience saw it, but New York didn't. The call stood, and Farrell went nuts. The Red Sox skipper had a bad challenge go the Yankees way the night before, so even though the guys on the field weren't the ones that made the call, Farrell apparently told the umpires where they could put their replay system. He was ejected. Now that was a replay worth watching.
Baseball apparently was so caught up in making replay calls quickly, they didn't even look at the play. Since the Farrell ejection, replays have taken longer. I don't even want to go into the 'transfer rule', but now this week's problem with replay is that reviews are being made on things that would have never been called, or even argued, before. If an outfielder makes a catch, and then drops the ball while taking it out of his glove, it's always been ruled a catch. More than once now, that has been reviewed and overturned.
Under the new system, baseball umpires are the most useless officials in all of sports. Football, basketball, and hockey all have some sort of replay, but you cannot challenge penalties, fouls, or an off-side pass. Baseball did protect plate umpires by not allowing challenges of balls and strikes, but that could easily go away. There's already 'Pitch Trax' and 'K-Zone' on TV, what the heck do we need umpires for? I know it's only three weeks, but so what if every other sport has replay? The technology hasn't proven to be all that great, and after all of this, they haven't necessarily been getting the call right. And you know what? A good old fashioned day game isn't that bad either.
Headed for home: To my knowledge, the new 'no collision' rule at home plate has not been an issue yet. There have been a couple of plays where the catcher fielded the ball in front of the plate, rather than blocking it, and it cost him. Let's see a catcher block the plate, get run into, tag the runner, hold onto the ball, and have the runner be called safe. I can't imagine baseball letting that happen, but you just never know.
Speaking of dumb...: I know times have changed, but to me, this is sad. I just got done listening to the Dodgers get clobbered 7-0 by Philadelphia. That's sad, but not what I'm talking about. Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee allowed 0 runs, 4 hits, 0 walks, and had 10 strikeouts in 8 innings, and did not go out and pitch the ninth. Lee made 113 pitches, which even in today's standards of babying the hundred-million dollar arms, is not outrageous. Lee may not have wanted to pitch the ninth (I doubt it), but especially with a big lead, should have been given the chance for a complete game shutout.
Television tidbits: You may have noticed this, but the Fox Saturday baseball game of the week isn't on Fox anymore. It's been shipped off the over-the-air stations to cable, and Fox Sports 1. So far, this seems like both a good and bad thing. You forget it's on, or don't get the channel, but there's no exclusive television window anymore (meaning more games at 1pm) and there's no exclusivity (Boston, New York, and Fox Sports 1 all televised that Red Sox-Yankees game). Fox Sports 1 has also been doing games on Saturdays, with the second (Diamondback-Dodgers this past Saturday) taken from a local broadcast...Also, it looks like no TBS games on Sundays any more. Less Red Sox and Yankees, Ernie Johnson, and Cal Ripken, but less Ron Darling too.
Other sports: Didn't write about it last week, but other than maybe the Stanley Cup skate, the final round (or at least several holes) of the Masters is always must-see TV...I haven't followed the NBA all year, so you mean to tell me that the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, and Charlotte Bobcats ALL made the playoffs? When did they get good? Clippers in, but Lakers AND Celtics out? When was the last time that happened?...I watched bits of the first two games of the LA Kings-San Jose Sharks hockey series. Every time I turn on the game, the Sharks score. I'm not superstitious, but I don't the Kings need me at this point.