Reports have been floating around over the last couple of days that Major League Baseball plans to expand replay further, and that this expansion of replay is likely to include some form of challenge system, most likely beginning in 2014.
Anybody who’s had the misfortune of sitting through a Red Sox game this year knows that baseball has a problem with the game running too long. While baseball is not a slow game when it’s done properly, it’s become a progressively longer and more tepid game of late, a problem that MLB ought to be working to resolve.
There’s nothing wrong with working to improve officiating in baseball, MLB umpiring has been bad lately, and that’s unfortunate. The issue is that more calls should be gotten correct, not that managers should be given some sort of strategic choice as to when to challenge a play. What if a call is bad, but a manager doesn’t want to run out of challenges? What if a manager is trying to stall for time for one of his relievers to warm up, and uses a challenge flag to provide that time?
The challenge flag is one of the worst things about the NFL (and there are a lot of bad things about NFL football), implementing it in baseball would only serve to slow down the game, and would not help to curtail the real problem: bad officiating. If Bud Selig and the rest of MLB’s big wigs want to fix bad officiating, step one is training their officials better, and only hiring the best ones to work games. MLB umpiring isn’t merely mediocre, it’s downright bad, Brandon Inge bad, Jonathan Sanchez bad, Michael McKenry bad.
If MLB wants to see a good version of instant replay use, they should go to a format like the NHL uses, where calls are reviewed by officials at the league offices, rather than the umpires at the game. It’s less time consuming, more accurate, and won’t require any kind of strategic challenge usage by managers. Game speed will not be significantly diminished, and more calls will be gotten right as they should be.
Adding replay to reverse poor calls is a step in the right direction for improving officiating, but not the ultimate answer. The real answer lies in better officiating, which requires more work from umpires and the league to improve the quality of the game. If MLB does add replay, they need to do it in such a way that keeps every game from becoming a four hour marathon. Whatever happens with MLB’s officiating and replay mess, there is a lot of work to be done on this issue. Hopefully Bud Selig finally gets something right this time.