In the top of the eight inning of game two of the American League Championship series the Detroit Tigers were trying to add to their 1-0 lead. With a runner on first and two out Austin Jackson singled to right and Omar Infante took a wide turn around second base. Nick Swisher threw behind him and appeared to have got his man. But second base umpire Jeff Nelson saw it otherwise and called Infante safe.
Replays, however, vindicated the first impression of many and in fact showed that the play was not even terribly close. Infante was tagged several seconds before he got his hand back on the base. The New York Yankees then had a mini-meltdown surrendering two hits and a walk as the Tigers expanded their lead to 3-0.
Fortunately the play did not matter in the long term. The Yankees bats remained as anaemic as they did all postseason and they never came close to getting even one run to ignite a controversy. But even so it re-opens the question about whether or not some sort of decision review system should be implemented in baseball.
Most other sports have some way to review close or controversial decisions, the notable exception being the lack of goal-line technology in football. But Fifa’s stance on technology is widely derided as ridiculous and it is certainly not at what baseball should look with regard to technology. Today has been another example of why baseball must implement a more through decision review system.
The biggest objection is the time consideration. Lengthy breaks whilst umpires look at video are not good for players and especially not for causal fans. The last thing MLB wants is more four hour games. But it is probably more important to get the call right and in any case there is a way to reduce the time taken out of the game looking at the replay.
Right now what usually happens with close home runs is that the nearest umpire will make a call. The manager on the wrong end will then come out to dispute it and the umpires will convene and discuss the matter. They will then go into the video room to look at the replays before coming back out with their verdict. It’s a long process, but one that could be dramatically reduced by looking at cricket’s DRS (Decision Review System).
It makes sense. Cricket and baseball are first cousins so the review systems should be similar. In cricket the umpire makes the call in real time. The side on the wrong end of the decision then has 15 second to decide whether to call for a review. Each side have two reviews, but they do not lose one if it is successful. If they decide to review, then the umpires do not go off the field, but rather refer the matter to a colleague in the media centre. The third umpire then radios his decision back onto the field.
This cuts out a lot of tedious on-field arguing and discussing as well as the not inconsiderable time for the umpires to go off the field and then come back on it. There is no reason at all why this could not be implemented directly in baseball. Teams could be given two unsuccessful reviews per game and the manager can use a sign from the dugout to signal his intention to review a play. (In cricket that sign is a ‘T’ with the arms.)
This solves the time factor, at least to an extent; the other objection is usually the subjective nature of placing runners if need be. Of course this is something that is already a possibility in the current replay system if an umpire overturns what was originally given as a home run. It is also the practice for fan interference and has been for some time. This should not be much of an issue, however, most disputed calls do not involve conjecture about the final position of the runners. Even in those that do it will usually be very straightforward and certainly there would be much less controversy about runner placement than about a missed call.
There are few other worthwhile objections to a decision review system in baseball and many benefits. There are not many times that an umpire’s decision has a large impact on the course of a game and probably no instances where a team has no chance to come back from a missed call. (The Yankees certainly could have and probably should have come back from the missed call today.) But it still provides an unfair hurdle to teams as well as needless controversy. A decision review system would be a benefit to baseball and one along the lines of cricket’s DRS should be implemented as soon as possible.