In the past several days I have considered some unintended consequence of the replay challenge system. I kind of like thinking about such things and encourage all of you to do the same so that we won’t be surprised when they happen.
I think this observation from reader Tim W. would apply to either a fifth umpire system or a challenge system — and it’s not a criticism; merely an observation — but it is yet another way that replay will change the game in subtle ways. Specifically: players will — or should be — trained to play for four outs:
Will teams now play to 4 outs per inning? Runners on 1st and 2nd, one out. Ground ball that looks like a double play with a neighborhood tag of second and a close play at first. Should be inning ending. Now the runner on second continues to round third and is headed toward home. Does the defense give up and assume both outs will be upheld and does the runner head to the dugout. OR does the runner continue toward home, the first baseman throws home, there is a collision at the plate. Your catcher just got ran over because you were not sure of the outs being upheld or the offense scores a run on the appeal … There would seem to be endless possibilities if you begin to review every aspect of the game. Why is the out at first more or less important than strike 3/ball 4. That out or lack thereof, is one of twenty-seven, just as the play at first.
There has been a lot of talk about where to put runners on overturned calls, the issues facing “continuation plays” as it were. I feel like there will be at least an initial bias to putting runners back to where they actually got to on the play as opposed to sending them backwards on the basepaths in the interests of undoing what would not have been done. Not intentionally, but because it will make umpires feel like they’re interfering with natural play more than they really are. Just sort of a psychological quirk.
Smart teams will start to take advantage of that. They’ll tell their runners and fielders to keep moving. To treat the game like there are four outs an inning so as to gain maximal advantage on overturned calls.