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Column: Instant replay in baseball a good thing

By Dan Sostek / Staff Writer

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When it was announced on Jan. 16 that Major League Baseball unanimously decided to expand instant replay, allowing managers to challenge at least one play during the span of each game, many, including myself, were skeptical.

The decision expanded the previous incarnation of replay reviews in baseball, as prior to the 2014 season, the only reviewable plays were home runs, and said reviews could only be initiated by the umpire crew. Now, managers are afforded a challenge that they can use between innings one through six. If they win their first challenge, they then get a second and final challenge to use. After the sixth inning, reviews can only be initiated by the umpiring crew, and no challenges can be used. The MLB adopted a system similar to the NHL’s in which the umpiring crew will call up a replay center — the MLB’s is in New York — which then tells the crew whether to uphold or overturn the contested call.

For a sport that’s most often critiqued for its length and excitement level, it would appear that this new innovation would not please fans, but only amplify their problems with the sport.

However, here in Pittsburgh on Opening Day, if those fears and concerns were not quelled, they were at least calmed a bit when at PNC Park, visiting Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria became the first manager ever to use a challenge, contesting a call that pitcher Jeff Samardzija was out at first base on a bunt.

The umpire crew went to the phone, dialed up the MLB Replay Command Center, were told their call was correct and informed both parties that the decision was upheld.

This whole process took a total of one minute and 45 seconds.

The review process might not be perfect, but it has been formulated efficiently enough to bring more positives than negatives to a sport that some believe to be stuck in the past.

First, the review process will curb, if not completely eradicate, the number of manager-umpire arguments. While some fans might revel in the “drama” of a coach screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs at umpires, getting rid of these confrontations by swapping out the explicit exclamations with calm requests for an instant replay can only benefit and speed up the sport.

Second, while the sport will never be rid of incorrect calls as long as there is a cap on challenges, any time an incorrect call can be fixed within a matter of minutes — and unlike the NFL, not even requiring a commercial break — it can only be a boon to the sport. Instances like Armando Galarraga losing a perfect game because of an incorrect call at first base will no longer occur. The same goes for an obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks in the World Series last fall that now would at the very least go to a review, meaning thousands of upset viewers, like myself, would have an immediate, definitive response.

Lastly, the arguments against replay are outdated. Opposition to technological advances that allow the aforementioned benefits is nonsensical. The “human element” of baseball that people fear will disappear with instant replay will remain as long as human athletes aren’t replaced by robots.

The concept of instant replay may be tough for baseball purists to accept, but it’s the right move for Major League Baseball, with increased replay leading to an increased amount of correct calls and, in turn, put forth a better product for this season and years to come.

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Column: Instant replay in baseball a good thing