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Three Problems with MLB Replay and How to Fix Them

I am generally a supporter of instant replay in baseball. Armando Galarraga must be avenged. However, the current system has serious problems. Baseball would be better if they didn’t exist. Here are three:

Problem: Finality, Solution: 5-second challenge clock

It’s a 3-2 count with 2 outs, and the runner on second. The batter hits a line drive to center field. The outfielder throws home, and the catcher just barely tags the runner out before touches home plate. It’s a bang-bang play, the umpire calls out, the crowd goes wild. This kind of heart-pounding action is what separates baseball from a lot of sports. Then… a manager sticks his hand in the air, waiting for his review team to look at the play. The whole stadium is waiting. Finally, after 20 seconds, the manager sticks his hand down, signaling that they won't challenge.

Replay has killed the feeling of a bang-bang play. Any reaction on the field is now conditional. Instead, there should be a very short challenge clock. If a team wants to challenge a play, they need to do so within 5 seconds. This effectively forces the player to make the call. This is fine; players are, naturally, there to play the game. If a player makes a bad challenge call, we can treat it like any other bad decision that players make: a failure of playing baseball.

Problem: Drama, Solution: Challenge flags

If I’m sitting in the upper deck, I can’t see Aaron Boone deciding whether or not to challenge a call. I’m just waiting and wondering what is going on. The method of challenging is also pretty boring: a manager makes a hand signal. Baseball needs more pizazz, not less.

Instead, let’s give each manager a brightly-colored challenge flag. If they want to challenge a play, they throw the flag on the field. If the call is successfully challenged, they get the flag back.

Challenge flags dovetail nicely with the 5-second challenge clock since the placement of a flag on the field could stop the 5-second timer.

Problem: Technology, Solution: No Technology

Baseball is awash in technology. Teams receive terabytes of data from each game, and quite a bit reaches players and managers while the game is going on. Teams who use this information undoubtedly benefit from doing so, and we’ll never prevent its use in between games. Technology is an inseparable tool for preparation, training, and front office decision-making in modern baseball.

However, technology should not be used to play the game. Baseball players have a fairly limited set of equipment: bats, gloves, cleats, batting gloves, sunglasses, and helmets. We shouldn’t add instant replay, iPads, and other technology to the list.

In the replay context, this means a big one: no video room during games. Teams would not be allowed any video in the clubhouse, and teams could not use the dugout phone to call down video information. They won’t be allowed to yell at umpires that their replay said a ball was a strike. They wouldn’t be allowed to communicate to managers whether or not they should call for a review. Keep it analog.

Photo credit: Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

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