Melky Cabrera of the New York Yankees fails to make a play on a ball that lands fair but is called foul by umpire Phil Cuzzi in the eleventh inning agains against the Minnesota Twins in Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
MLB is going to expand replay review beginning in 2012. They're getting closer, but there's still one more type of play they need to add to review to make it complete.
All baseball fans should give credit to MLB and MLBPA negotiators, who have agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement that extends labor peace for five more years. By the end of this deal, there will be 21 consecutive years without a labor stoppage in baseball. There are a number of important things agreed to by the two parties, but to me, the most important change is this one:
So that means that home-run calls, fair/foul and trapped/caught plays will be subject to review, once MLB and the umpires agree on a method to conduct such reviews. Since up to now, only home run calls have been reviewed, adding extra calls will add extra time to games.
There are two ways to avoid extended delays while plays are reviewed. One way would be to set up an NHL-style command post, perhaps at MLB Network TV headquarters in New Jersey, staffed by retired umpires, with the ability to monitor every game in progress. Calls could be reviewed there and communicated to umpires on the field by cellphone -- this would require a secure cellphone to be installed at every stadium, but I wouldn't think that would be too difficult.
Another method, which I have suggested at least twice, would be to expand umpiring crews to five men. One of them would be stationed in the press box with replay facilities; in the event of a necessary review, this umpire would review the play and signal -- perhaps with a dedicated radio line -- the correct call to the crew on the field. Either one of these methods would save time over the current method, which involves umpires traipsing off the field and into what in some stadiums is a cramped area with a screen no larger than the one on your laptop, in order to make the correct call. (You'd think the umpires would be in favor of this, as it would add 15 umpiring jobs.)
You'll note, though, that one type of play has been left out of this deal. Not ball/strike calls -- it would be almost impossible to review those, since in many games dozens of those are disputed. For now, ball/strike calls will have to be left alone.
No, it's the safe/out call -- one of the most basic elements of the game -- that still won't be reviewed. Last July, I wrote about this blown call:
Going into that game, the Pirates were tied for first place in the NL Central. Including that loss, Pittsburgh went on skids of 3-16 and 9-27, finally going 19-43 from then through season's end. It can't be proven, of course, but it just might be that the terrible call which could have cost the Pirates that game, might also have taken all the stuffing out of them and sent them on the tailspin that led them to a 90-loss season.
There was another one in Game 3 of the World Series this year:
Did that cost the Rangers the game? We'll never know, but right after that call, the Cardinals blew the game open. Maybe Texas wins Game 3 if that call is made correctly -- calls like that still won't be reviewed under this new deal -- and goes on to win the World Series.
Baseball is tiptoeing in the right direction by adding fair/foul and trapped/caught plays to replay. Here's hoping that it doesn't take them too much longer to add safe/out calls, and join the NFL, NBA and NHL, the three other major North American professional sports leagues, in reviewing all important plays that could affect the outcome of a game. That way, the results can accurately reflect what the players actually do on the field. At last, MLB is going to get most of the calls right; let's hope this is a step toward eventually getting all the calls right.