-- PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Gentlemen, start your replay machines.
And holy stromboli, it's about time.
A mere 28 years after the NFL first went to the videotape, baseball is finally ready to start using that newfangled replay technology to do revolutionary stuff like:
• Decide if the winning run really did just score or not.
• Figure out whether Armando Galarraga (or somebody like him) really did just throw a perfect game.
• Get the future Don Denkingers of the world off the hook if, by chance, they happen to miss a momentous call at first base in the ninth inning of a World Series game. Or any other game.
You know. That sort of thing.
It probably took roughly a decade too long for this miracle to happen. But, as one owner said Thursday as he fled the quarterly owners meetings at the spectacular Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa:
"It isn't perfect, but it's a lot better than what we had."
Yeah, good point. Especially because what they had, before this week, never got around to including any of the above.
In the end, Bud Selig deserves a firm pat on the shoulder here, because he finally stopped trying to convince us that nobody, in any dugout in the land, wanted more replay, and let this monumental development come about.
And the three distinguished architects of this plan -- John Schuerholz, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa -- deserve massive credit, because they were willing to toss Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and a whole bunch of shaky replay ideas into the compactor along the way. Thank heaven.
And what they ended up with was a system that at least will have the flexibility to fix what La Russa estimated would be almost 90 percent of the calls that can happen on a baseball field near you.
Just not every night.
And not every game.
And not even every inning.
And that, to me, is the biggest potential flaw in the system baseball is about to unfurl.
This isn't a system designed to fix all missed calls. Just understand that, OK?
And it isn't a system designed to get as many calls right, every single game, as technology could allow us to get right.
And it isn't a system that will even give umpires the authority to check the video, at any point in the first six innings of a game, if no challenges are issued -- even if they're dying to.
No, it's a system designed, said La Russa, mostly to fix "the big miss."
"The game-changing call."
The call we'd otherwise rerun on "SportsCenter" 14 times an hour for the next 22 hours.
Which is an excellent idea. We're all for it. It's hard to think of anyone with an open mind who would be in favor of continuing to let that type of call go unfixed.
But what about the other calls?
What about the call in the first inning that nobody knows at the time is going to change the game, but does, because it goes unchallenged and never gets corrected?
There are going to be a whole bunch of those calls coming, you know. And why? Because managers are going to have only one challenge to play with. That's why. (Two, at the max, if they get the first one right. But they can't be sure of that.)
So think about it. One or two or five outs into a game, is any manager going to dare to use up his challenge on a call that seems like Not A Big Enough Deal at the time?
A fair ball called foul, perhaps? Or a pitch that grazes a hitter's jersey that the ump doesn't see? Or a catch that's called a trap -- for a seemingly innocent single -- with two outs and nobody on?
Those plays, those calls, can wind up changing games, too. But the way the replay architectural committee has described how it sold this system to the 30 managers, I'd bet almost no calls like those get challenged in the first inning or two.
Now it wouldn't have been too risky under a slew of alternative systems that baseball could have adopted, but it's definitely too dangerous under this system, which Torre and his group have been spinning to managers by likening it to another big decision they have to make every night.
"I said, 'Just look at this as something you've never had before,'" Torre said. "And use it as a strategy. … And the fact that you only have two [challenges], even if you're right -- it's like having a pinch hitter.' Tony and I have talked about it. It's like, 'When are you going to use this guy?'"
Well, that's an excellent analogy, if you're trying to make a manager understand that replay strategy is now another fun-filled, second-guess fest that has just been added to his job description. Whoop-de-doo.
But here's the problem with that analogy: No manager would ever burn his best pinch hitter in the first inning, right? Even if the bases were loaded and Clayton Kershaw was pitching, and you might never have a chance this good again.
So there are going to be nights -- maybe a lot of nights -- on which plays that are made for challenging go unchallenged. All because of when they happen, not how they happen.
All because, in the end, baseball decided it was more important to maintain the "rhythm of the game" by limiting stoppages of play -- by limiting replays -- than it was to get all calls right. Or lots of calls right. Or, at the very least, lots of early-inning calls right.
Just recognize that's the deal baseball's decision-makers made with themselves, to make any kind of replay possible. But also recognize that it didn't have to work this way.
A system that included, say, three challenges per manager instead of one -- that would have changed all this.
A system that gave umpires the authority to review any call without a challenge -- that would have altered this equation, too.
And, especially, a system that bagged the whole challenge concept, that gave the replay umpire the power to fix any call he thought was wrong -- that would be ideal if you were trying to get virtually every call right instead of just the big ones.
But baseball didn't want to go down that road. It couldn't give umpires the authority to decide what plays to review, Torre said, or they'd want to go to the video "all the time." And the never-ending fear of the 4-hour game -- that includes 76 minutes of replay reviews -- continues to hang over the powers that be.
You should also be warned, incidentally, that certain calls -- some of our favorite replay specials -- won't be reviewable: The checked swing. The neighborhood play. Trap/catch calls in the infield. So don't get all worked up about them, either.
"Honestly, I don't understand why all plays, other than balls and strikes, are not reviewable," said one man in uniform who didn't want to be identified. "I keep coming back to the same thought: If there's a mistake and we have the technology to fix it, why not fix it?"
I'll admit I've had that thought myself.
And guess what? There's an excellent chance that sometime this season, you're going to be watching a game in which a blown call doesn't get repaired, and you'll be thinking that, too.
But here's what we all need to remember:
This is just the beginning, and Schuerholz, Torre and La Russa have been refreshingly honest about that.
If this system needs to be tweaked, fiddled with or totally overhauled, they pledge they won't wait to do that.
If America likes what it sees and demands more replay, "that's something we'll look at," La Russa promised.
But they had to start somewhere. And they had to start sooner or later. And this is where they started. Which was better, way better, than not starting at all.
So yeah, it's kind of unfortunate they gave the NFL that little quarter-century head start. But that's all gone now. On Thursday, the 21st century finally arrived. And baseball's replay age has begun. Finally. Thankfully. And, alas, haltingly.
One challenge at a time.