My ire at the challenge system announced yesterday is not based on the presumption that it will be an utter failure. I must, and hereby do, acknowledge that, yes, some calls that were bad will be fixed as a result of a challenge system. And I will grant that that’s better than nothing.
Nor do I think that my preferred system would be perfect. No system will be. So let us dispose with the notion that I’m yelling about the perfect being the enemy of the good here. I’m not doing that at all. My issue, as I explained yesterday, is partially philosophical and partially practical.
The philosophical: making a challenge system is an abdication of baseball’s responsibility to get calls right by putting the onus on a manager to challenge or not. Taking what should be a given in baseball — the right calls being made at maximal levels — and turning it into a choice. Adding a strategic element to it. Saying — as some definitely will when it inevitably happens — that it was the manager’s fault a bad call wasn’t overturned rather than the ump’s. Once you make that choice you’ve changed the conversation about bad calls, and I find that troubling.
Practically I have problems in that, while MLB and its surrogates have argued that other systems weren’t practical and that a challenge system is the best, they’ve not explained why the challenge system isn’t subject to the same problems as others or why it’s better in any actual way.
Jeff Passan’s column today is in that vein. It basically says “a challenge system isn’t perfect, but it’s good and good is better than nothing and don’t think that the people who came up with it haven’t thought of everything first.”
To sit there and blame those at MLB for this is wrong-headed. The game itself is to blame. It is not altogether receptive to replay … Of course Tony La Russa, John Schuerholz and Joe Torre, the influential members of the league’s Executive Council who helped shape the final plan, would like broader replay in a vacuum. Even Bud Selig, a longtime replay opponent, wants more than this. Anybody who thinks a group of smart men is sitting in a room and conspiring to come up with ways not to get calls right should check out the window, because those black helicopters are mighty close.
Well, of course they thought of things. They are smart people. But if they have reasoned this out so well, why did the announcement yesterday not explain these pros and cons? Instead of explaining why a fifth umpire scenario is unworkable, why were we condescended to with “it’ll be unique and charming” and “this will empower managers” when (a) it won’t be unique and charming; and (b) managers hate it. Why was there no explanation as to how a challenge system will present shorter delays and stoppages in play than an alternative? As it is now, the one thing that stops a game dead cold in its tracks is a manager walking on to the field, for any reason. This system demands that that happen, as often as eight more times a game if managers use all of their challenges.
Which isn’t to say the assumption is wrong. It’s to say that the men who brought us “this time it counts” to the All-Star Game should not, as a matter of course, get the benefit of the doubt when changes are brought to the game. They should not be allowed to simply pat us on the head and say our concerns aren’t warranted because smart men like Tony La Russa — who came up with over-specialized bullpens and loudly promoted the “unwritten rules” — thought everything through.
La Russa is a genius and a Hall of Fame manager. Bud Selig has a track record of bringing in change that many opposed but which ended up working just fine. But neither of them are infallible. They should be required to explain to us why alternatives — including some which are used in other sports leagues — aren’t ideal. Explain to us why this system — which is more radical in nature than those alternatives in terms of whose responsibility it now is to get calls right — is the best.
Until it can do that and can do it satisfactorily, I don’t think accusing those of us unhappy with the system as proposed as conspiracy theorists and hysterics is all that reasonable.