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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Let's Go to the Video Tape: Yup, Baseball's Replay is Hell

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AP Photo

It worked. It worked!

Sort of.

Major League Baseball is probably thumping its chest today in the face of critics of its shiny-new, much-maligned replay process after umpires used the system to confirm a Jayson Werth game-tying home run Wednesday night in the sixth inning of the Nationals-Marlins game. It took all of 22 seconds, according to MLB.com, to confirm that Werth’s shot had cleared the wall in right field, after Miami manager Mike Redmond asked the crew to confirm the ball didn’t bounce back due to fan interference.

Not sure which is more surprising; that the umps took less than a half-minute to make the right call, or that there were actually living, breathing fans in the stands at Marlins Park.

It was the 102nd review in the first 17 days of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, which means we’re on pace for some 1,100 such cases over the course of the entire season. Despite the swiftness with which Joe West and friends upheld Wednesday night’s home run call, the average replay time is currently running around two minutes, 15 seconds, which means by the end of September, umpires will have spent more than 40 collective hours of the regular season trying to determine if the call on the field was correct.

Hell, as long as it works, what’s almost two days in six months, right?

Right?

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Oh…right.

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That’s the image of Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli stretching to scoop a Xander Bogaerts throw (how many times will that be written this season?) Tuesday in the second inning of Boston’s 2-1 loss in Chicago. After Jose Abreu was called out on the play, White Sox manager Robin Ventura rightly challenged the call. Incredulously, the original call stood. Even more absurd, it took two minutes, 15 seconds to complete the review, only to come out of it looking like they’d done little but take a smoke break. The game went on for another three hours.

If that wasn’t the “what the hell are we doing here?” moment for managers, particularly in a game that came on the heels of Red Sox manager John Farrell’s ejection on Sunday night in New York, then the more egregious example is going to be a doozy. According to baseballsavant.com (a phenomenal site for keeping track of all things replay in baseball), only 35 plays (34.31 percent) have been overturned thus far, compared to 67 upheld (65.6 percent). Thirteen teams (including the Red Sox) have used two challenges so far; the Cubs have used a major league-high seven, and have been successful on four of those. The Cardinals, Orioles, Padres, and Twins have yet to ask for a challenge.

The Red Sox, of course, are 0-2 in replay challenges, 0-3 if you want to count Sunday’s call against the Yankees , when New York’s groundout in the fourth inning was overturned, directly leading to the deciding run in Boston’s 3-2 loss. That was a day after Farrell challenged that Yankee legend Dean Anna came off the bag and was tagged out following his double in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Woof.

After the game, MLB official Michael Teevan admitted that the replay ruling was incorrect, because “[t]he conclusive angle was not immediately available.”

What? What? So, what Major League Baseball is essentially saying that this system, which cost some $50 million to implement, doesn’t have an angle, any angle “immediately available?” For a game being televised on two regional sports networks in addition to Fox’s national feed? Anybody smell something here?

"I argued the point that it was inconclusive. I know that arguing a challenge play is not allowed, evident by spending most of the game inside," Farrell said in comments that eventually got him fined by MLB vice president Joe Torre. "But on the heels of yesterday and today, this is a tough pill to swallow. It's extremely difficult to have any faith in the system, the process that's being used."

Does anybody know the rules? Anyone?

The new wrinkle that the umps do seem to be instituting with a good deal of consistency is the rule in which a fielder must make a clean transfer from glove to throwing hand in order to record the out. In fact, they’ve kept such a close eye on it, it reminds me of the year some 20-plus years ago when the league decided it was really, really going to keep tabs on balks. A pitcher couldn’t blink during the first half of that season without the home plate umpire calling him for it.

What’s happening now in baseball is sort of like that situation; nobody seems to know what’s going on, so…screw it.

On Monday, it took three minutes for the umpires to overturn a Mariners challenge on a force play at the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning against the Rangers. Brad Miller grounded out to Texas pitcher Pedro Figuero, who tossed the ball home for the force. Catcher J.P. Arencibia caught the ball at the plate, and upon attempting to throw to first to catch batter Brad Miller in a double play, dropped the baseball. Dustin Ackey was out. For a few minutes, at least.

The transfer is one thing, but on a force out at home? If baseball wants to try to reinvent the wheel, can’t we at least start with the high strike zone? Why are the umps so reluctant to adhere to that, but have fallen in love with the transfer rule as if it there were compensation in donuts for every time it’s called?

For a game that moves at a glacial pace (the Canadiens and Lightning essentially played the entire second period of their playoff game Wednesday night in the time it took the Red Sox and White Sox to complete one inning), baseball hardly needs anything else to waste our time. So far, that’s all replay has shown itself to be.

Not even three weeks into the season and managers, players, and fans have already lost faith in the system. Maybe the theory behind the process wasn’t all that ill-conceived, but the bumbling stooges responsible for making its decisions have already made it a useless venture.