Desai: The issue with MLB instant replay

Aug. 19, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

One of the biggest problems that we have as sports fans is that it’s extremely difficult to voice our opinions and desires to those responsible for enacting changes in sports.

We want an expanded postseason system in baseball; the league adds only two more wild-card spots. We ask for a playoff bracket in college football; the league gives us a bracket for four. We hate how soccer officials often blow crucial offside calls; FIFA complicates the rule even further.

The only league that has done a decent job of complying with fan demands is the NFL, which has adapted the Pro Bowl to please fans, moved kickoffs to improve player safety and changed overtime rules to make games fairer.

And now, 27 years after the NFL began using instant replay, MLB is trying to rip a page directly out of their playbook in an attempt to finally institute replay in baseball.

Baseball fans, myself especially, have begged and pleaded for MLB to use instant replay. But out-of-touch baseball traditionalists who think “Puig” is a type of French dessert have opposed this necessary form of modernization. Unfortunately for us, the 1 percent who are more familiar with the Cold War than WAR have as much (if not, more) of a say than we do. We may need to start an Occupy Cooperstown movement to earn our fair representation back.

But the day has finally come. The day that fans have waited for, the day that irritated managers have waited for, the day that one drunk guy at every Giants game has waited for: Instant replay is finally a part of Major League Baseball. But before you victoriously spray champagne over your friends while blasting “Celebration” (which is a song I now hate due to how often it is played at Oracle Arena and Coliseum), I have some bad news for you.

The system is terrible.

I know that this is something we’ve wanted for a long time and I guess that a mediocre system is better than no system at all. Go ahead and celebrate, but this is definitely not champagne-worthy. (Perhaps orange juice or chocolate milk would be more appropriate.)

But before you stimulate Florida’s economy by buying an irrational amount of Tropicana, let me explain what I think is wrong with the replay system (or don’t, I already got your click).

To put it simply, this system allows managers one challenge for the first six innings of a game and two challenges for the rest of the game. If a manager challenges a play and the ruling is overturned, he will retain the challenge for future use. These challenges can be used on practically anything, other than balls and strikes.

My immediate reaction was to applaud MLB for its originality. This is such a creative idea! I wonder why there aren’t any other leagues that have adopted the challenge format. (If you didn’t catch that sarcasm, then you don’t deserve your chocolate milk shower.)

In all seriousness though, copying the NFL isn’t such a good idea for baseball. One key factor that MLB hasn’t accounted for is the punishment for getting a challenge wrong. In the NFL, if a coach challenges a play and is wrong, the coach both loses the challenge and a timeout. But baseball has no equivalent to the timeout, so there isn’t much of an issue in challenging a play. And I wouldn’t be surprised if managers immediately start taking advantage of this.

Imagine this scenario: The Cardinals are in Pittsburgh and it’s the bottom of the sixth inning. The Cardinals lead 5-4, but Neil Walker is standing on first base. Andrew McCutchen grounds a Shelby Miller pitch right up the third-base line. David Freese bobbles the ball, throws to first and McCutchen is safe by a mile as Walker advances to second. Now that the Cardinals are in a situation where they need a relief pitcher as soon as possible, Mike Matheny challenges the play, but he’s really just trying to buy time for relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal to warm up in the bullpen. By the time Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) makes the call in New York and reports the result to PNC Park, Rosenthal is ready to enter the game.

That strategy was so fundamental that even I thought of it.

Baseball is a slow game; there’s no denying that. So how is adding a replay system that requires challenges to be reviewed in New York while players, coaches and fans sit around waiting for the game to resume going to fix that problem? Challenges will be more likely to be used strategically than for their actual purpose.

So my proposal to finally get us our champagne shower is to add a fifth umpire, whose job is exactly what the third umpire’s job is in cricket. I know this reference is going to fly over so many people’s heads, so let me clarify. In cricket, the third umpire is an official who is in the stadium, but not actually on the field. He is in constant communication with the umpires on the field via radio, and the radio is used when a controversial call is made on the field, so that the third umpire can make a practically instantaneous call after viewing a few replays. The field umpires also have complete control as to what plays will be reviewed upstairs, so there are no limits or challenges.

Adopting cricket’s “fifth umpire” idea would give us the replay we’ve wanted for so long, without affecting the pace and flow of a game to a large extent. Of course, no system will be perfect, as we’ll be sacrificing game speed for accuracy.

So even though we’ll probably never get our champagne, I think this sparkling cider proposal is a lot better.

With a successful summer coming to a close, Nathan Desai will be returning to school to resume life as a student. Wish him luck and send him a virtual chocolate milk shower at thegreatnate97 ‘at’

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