OAKLAND, Calif – A week into the 2014 season, this much is certain – instant replay is a far-from-perfect product for Major League Baseball.
Bumps, missteps and basic confusion were expected as the new system was implemented into the regular season. The league tried to smooth the process during spring training by having each team play a minimum of five replay games, a preemptive way to figure out bugs and glitches.
But of course, much like the competition on the field, the jump from spring training to regular-season games was vastly different for the replay system.
It took just a handful of days to draw complaints from managers for a variety of reasons. And it will only continue.
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Everything about the system is being monitored, including the time elapsed for a challenge or replay review to take place. The Associated Press and mlb.com are writing separate stories on many of the replay challenges.
The A’s experienced the imperfections of the system in their home opener against the Cleveland Indians. Oakland manager Bob Melvin challenged a play at the plate where Derek Norris was called out at home.
Melvin challenged the ruling at the last second. After standing around for 4 minutes and 45 seconds watching home-plate umpire Mark Wegner on a headset, there was a resolution. The call was upheld.
“It’s becoming pretty clear that unless it’s obvious, they’re not going to overturn it,” Melvin told reporters postgame. “It was close, but we had him as safe.”
Outcomes aside, the amount of time the challenge took was the bigger issue. Baseball has already been plagued by complaints about length of games and pace of play. This won’t help. MLB officials have said that replay would be fast and efficient. So far it hasn’t been the case.
“If that’s how long the replay is going to take, there’s probably going to be some issues,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said postgame. “Hopefully they can figure out a way to make it quicker than that one. That took away from the flow of the game, and I think that’s what they’re trying to avoid.”
The system took even longer on Thursday night in Oakland, much to the dismay of Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon.
Thanks to a perfect relay throw from Robinson Cano, the Mariners threw out Sam Fuld as he was trying to score on an inside-the-park home run. Melvin went out to discuss the play with home-plate umpire Sean Barber. Moments later Barber decided to ask for a review of the play at the plate to address the other new rule in baseball – the home-plate collision rule.
“I talked to them at length about it,” McClendon said. “I was very disappointed how all that went down because we worked on this in spring training for quite a while and talked about these kind of things.”
The entire review took just about seven minutes to conclude. The Mariners were sitting in the dugout the whole time awaiting the ruling.
“First of all, those challenges should be done in a reasonable amount of time, and the team that’s on the field shouldn’t come off the field because you don’t want your pitcher sitting in the dugout for 5-7 minutes at a time,” McClendon said. “But everything we talked about didn’t happen. My pitcher is sitting on the bench, and that’s just not good. He’s sitting on the bench after a fairly stressful inning. Now to ask him to come back out is just not fair. It pretty much cost him his outing. He had to come out of the game.”
Besides the lengthy delay, McClendon was upset that the play was even reviewed at all. While the details surrounding the new home-plate collision rules have been defined, the actual ruling on those plays isn’t quite so black and white. McClendon didn’t think Barber, a Class AAA umpire called up to work the series, should have been convinced to review his own decision.
“What I voiced to the umpires, ‘Your discretion should have been a lot sharper than that,’ ” McClendon said. “I was a catcher, and I know when the catcher is standing in fair territory it’s kind of hard to block the plate. He was in fair territory the whole time. It wasn’t a question of him blocking the plate, it was swipe tag and then there was no collision, so what are we reviewing? I was baffled by the whole thing.”
Will replay get better and more efficient? That’s the hope around baseball. But you can expect a fair amount of bristling until then.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish