LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Joe Torre just addressed the media at the Winter Meetings to announce the latest developments on instant replay. The latest: not many developments.
Torre said that the matter was discussed at length with managers and general managers here this morning and that, while the league has given general approval of a challenge-based system like the one recently tested in the Arizona Fall League, there are still a number of issues that need to be finalized with respect to implementation. Torre said he is confident, however, that replay will be approved and in place for spring training and the 2014 season.
The challenge system — as opposed to any number of “eye in the sky” or fifth umpire-in-the-booth scenarios — seems unlikely to be changed, even if the specifics of what can and cannot be challenged are still in flux. A baseball source told me that there has been extensive discussion about something other than a challenge system, but that the consensus is still that a challenge system is still preferable. A big reason for this the time between the end of the play and initiation of the challenge. A manager may be expected to challenge swiftly, replay officials may deliberate more. During that deliberation a pitch may already be thrown.
One specific issue I and others have raised about a challenge system is what happens to umpire discretion on the so-called “neighborhood play” at second base, in which umpires — in the interest of fielder safety — will call a runner out even if the fielder doesn’t have a foot on the bag. I asked Torre if there has been discussion about what might happen to the neighborhood play if managers challenge the technical skirting of the rules about force outs. He immediately said “yes, lots of discussion.” I got the strong sense that that issue has taken up a lot of space and time in this whole story.
A person with knowledge of the managerial discussions told me after Torre’s comments that, at the moment, the idea is to make the neighborhood play non-challengable in the interests of fielder safety. Transfer plays, however — in which the fielder turning a double play may bobble the ball while retrieving it from his glove — will be reviewable.
None of this is perfect, obviously. But even a flawed system is preferable to one in which no replay is available. And, my personal criticisms and preference for a fifth umpire in the booth aside, it’s inevitable that whatever is ultimately implemented will improve with usage and practice. Put differently: it’s time for the discussion to end and time for replay to begin. the faster that happens, the quicker the debugging can happen.