In defense of expanded replay

The human element lives

No one has clearly explained what happened last Saturday at Yankee Stadium, when the infamous Dean Anna call was clearly missed -- both on the field and in the replay room. But all indications are that this was more a failure of human judgment than it was a failure of technology.

And that's a reminder. Umpires are still human, whether they're working a game on the field or sitting in that replay command center. So they're going to make mistakes.

That one happened to be particularly embarrassing. And whatever caused that human error, it needs to be addressed. But there's also something all of us need to keep in mind:

When those umpires sit in front of those replay machines, it's the first time in their lives they've ever done that. This is on-the-job training. In real time. With real consequences.

I think often of something that much-respected umpire Fieldin Culbreth said to me in spring training: "I've umpired 25 years out there [on the field]. I've got as many minutes in the replay booth as you do."

So we're going to need to grade these umpires on a curve -- at least for a while, until every crew has rotated through New York and done time in the replay booth at least once. That will have happened, from what we understand, by mid-June. After that, we might not be so tolerant.

Make up for lost time

Baseball still needs to figure out what its ultimate end game is on replay. Is it more important to get the calls right, no matter how long it takes? Or should those replay umps be feeling pressure to keep the game moving and only overturn obvious mistakes?

Well, here's the data, through Wednesday:

  • Average time of all reviews: 2 minutes, 3 seconds.

  • Longest review: 5 minutes, 12 seconds (on an upheld fair/foul call in an April 2 Cubs-Pirates game).

  • Shortest review: 30 seconds (on an overturned play at second in Saturday's Tigers-Padres game).

  • Just 11 of 105 reviews took longer than 3 minutes.

  • 34 reviews took under 90 seconds -- and 20 took no more than 1:15.

So most of these reviews are being accomplished in a manageable period of time. And most of the long ones are being delayed by the use of multiple angles or the more complicated "X-Mo" technology, which isn't available instantly.

"Normally," La Russa said, "we can get it in a minute. If we had the super slow-mo available to us right away, we'd have most of them by the time the umpire puts his headset on. But some of these calls are really tough. And you need that super slow-mo to really get a good look at these calls."

MLB is hopeful that process can be sped up as everyone gets more familiar with the technology. But if not, I hope they all keep in mind that what really matters is calling the play right, not calling the play fast.

Now these aren't the only issues, obviously. The change in the interpretation of the transfer rule is a big topic unto itself, and only complicated by the use of replay. Placing runners after overturned calls will always be tricky. And the use of replay to review whether the catcher is blocking the plate hasn't resulted in a single overturned call, according to MLB's replay log -- which we find odd, or at least interesting.

But in the big picture, where's the evidence this has been "a complete mess"? I can't find it.

"My job is to see that big picture," said Braves president John Schuerholz, one of the key replay architects. "And I'm not going to try to claim that we have a perfect system. But it's better than we had before. And I believe we're greatly reducing the number of incorrect calls that were left standing in the past. So all in all, I think we're far better off than we were when the World Series ended last fall, because now we have the ability to get those calls right."

And you know what? Upon further review, he's 100 percent correct -- even if all the calls coming from his favorite replay room haven't been.

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