Best part of new replay? Removing on-field umps from decision
MLB's new instant replay system is now in place, and the league has made a great decision in removing the on-field umpires from the decision-making process when it comes to either upholding or overturning challenged calls.
That was my initial thought when reading through the text of the official MLB press release announcing that expanded replay would be used during the 2014 season.
No, I wasn't reacting to expanded replay being implemented. That was a foregone conclusion. Even if it didn't come in time for the 2014 season, expanded replay was happening for 2015. Instead, I was reacting to this portion of the release:
[The] Crew Chief and at least one other Major League Umpire will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center, which will remain at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. Major League Umpires will be staffed as Replay Officials at the Replay Command Center. After viewing video feeds, the Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call, based on the continuing standard of whether there is clear and convincing evidence.
And then this:
The umpires on the field will not have a monitor to review the play and they will not leave the field at any time.
And, finally, this:
The Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call.
I'm giddy and hopefully I'm not alone.
The umpires don't disappear
It seems a trivial matter, but having umpires disappear from sight means a delay where we have no idea when an end is in sight.
Pride can't interfere
Look, I respect the hell out of the on-field umpires. Some of those calls they have to make in real time are unbelievably difficult and I still maintain they are the best officials in professional sports (Why, yes, I have written positive about an umpire before; thanks for asking). That being said, these guys are still human beings. If there's a call that is really, really close and the umpire who made the on-field call is looking at it, it's human nature to try and find a way to exhonorate one's self by confirming the call, even if subconsciously.
This is now out of the equation.
Questions of motive are limited
How many times have we been watching a football or basketball game in the waning minutes when there's a review taking place of a controversial call in favor of the home team -- and we're sitting there thinking, "there's no way they overturn this." I couldn't even begin to count.
This, again, calls to human nature. I mean, these officials are human beings and they still have to leave the venue alive and in good health. Rowdy crowds can be quite daunting.
I'm not suggesting MLB umpires would be swayed by whether or not they are ruling for the home team. In fact, the overwhelming majority of these guys have enough integrity that they wouldn't be swayed at all.
The concern here is that public perception matters. For example, the overturning of the Pete Kozma gaffe in Game 1 of the World Series. We heard plenty about how that call wouldn't have been overturned in Busch Stadium from a litany of fans. If thousands of people believe umpires are swayed by the home-town fans, having an off-site replay official should help matters.
Hopefully with this system, the questions of motivation are limited. I believe they should be.
Best of all, though ...
Delays are limited
How much time does it take for the NBA or NFL officials to make their way to the monitor and get set up with the headsets and everything? It's not ages, but it's certainly something. It's time where everyone in the stadium/arena is just sitting around waiting. This entire time could be spent by a person already sitting at a monitor reviewing the play. Hell, the replay official may already have a decision by the time the on-field umpires get to the headsets, if the call is obvious. That would mean less of a delay than if there wasn't replay -- considering how long managerial arguments have a tendency to last. On that note, keep in mind no arguments are permitted after the review.
From where I sit, we're going to see many more calls corrected with limited delays and limited questions of umpire pride/motivation. That's a solid base hit.
A home run?
Well, I'd say no. I'd rather the central replay office take care of everything instead of dealing with a managerial challenge process or letting the crew chief decide, but I'll take a line drive single after years of strikeouts and weak groundouts.