There doesn't have to be a complicated system for instant replay. Not at first.
Everyone wants replay in baseball.
Everyone. You, reading this right now, want replay. If you don't, it's because you haven't really thought about it, but you really do want it. You're just putting off the part where you make up your mind. Everyone wants replay in baseball.
"The appetite for more replay in the sport is very low." - Bud Selig, 2012
Except there are good ways to go about it and bad ways. Jayson Stark has been on the replay beat for years, and he's been one of the loudest supporters of the inevitable changes. He also has a new, in-depth column about the changes that might come in 2014, but aren't coming soon enough:
At some point over the horizon, baseball is inching toward a system of vastly expanded replay -- just the kind of system, in fact, that Girardi was dreaming of three months ago.
It's a system that could lead to the review of all sorts of calls: on plays at the plate. Plays at first base. Plays at every base. Not 50 of them a game. But enough, theoretically, to satisfy the people who have been griping for years that baseball was stuck in a technological time warp on this front.
It's apparent now that that's coming. Just not yet. Sorry.
Here is my argument for replay:
That was called an out.
That GIF is the whole argument. That's all I brought.
Thank you for your time.
That argument is pretty danged compelling, alright. But that was also a simple case: a play at first for the last out of the inning. Everything can get more complicated, involving plays with fewer than two outs, runners in motion, or runners previously in motion who stopped because of an incorrect call. So I get that it's complicated. It's a big rulebook, and MLB would need to dig into it to see what would be reviewable and what wouldn't.
That doesn't mean that all replay needs to be held up. Here, then, is the handy-dandy, no-fuss, three-step guide to pain-free and immediate expanded replay in major-league baseball:
1. It has nothing to do with the NFL's version
No manager challenges, and no umpires jogging to a dugout, sticking their heads into a secret box of mystery for five minutes.
Not at first, at least. Maybe there's room for changes later on, but at first, simplicity is the way to soothe the purists.
2. The replays are reviewed by a designated video umpire, the fifth member of the crew
He would be a full-fledged member of the union, with the only difference between him and the other umpires being that he never steps on a field. Wendy Thurm took a look last year at having a central hub review everything, which is what the NHL does, but an extra 15 umpiring jobs could help any potential replay objections from the union.
More important would be the replay official getting to be a part of the regular crew. It's not like I'm hyper-sensitive to the plight of umpire rights, but having the replay reviews come from a traveling member of the crew could allay the sense of constant, Orwellian supervision that a central hub might evoke.
3. If the replay can't be settled within 30 seconds, forget it
The purpose of this would be to make a clear distinction between the wafer-thin margins that are almost impossible to judge on TV after several replays, and the plays like the GIF up there. It looked wrong live, and one replay confirmed that it wasn't close.
In the future? Sure, go for the expanded, director's cut of instant replay. Get every trap, every bang-bang play at first right. Figure out a system to do it cheaply and accurately. Use lasers if you need to.
For now, though, stick with the basics, even if just to calm some nerves in a stodgy sport. An extra guy in the booth, who can watch the play and tell immediately what happened. Add that to the existing home-run review, and the number of egregious blown calls would drop dramatically.
The important point to remember is that if baseball were to do the exact opposite of these suggestions -- manager challenges that lead to mystery boxes, which lead to 12-minute delays -- everything would still be much better. The NFL's system is convoluted, and the delays are interminable. But it's still better than no replay at all.
It will happen, if only because everyone -- everyone, dammit! -- wants it. But the easy way to get it done is with baby steps. Here are the baby steps. The cost would about $2.25 million per year (the cost of an extra umpire for each of the 17 crews). The delays are negligible. C'mon. Help us out, Bud.