There’s nothing wrong with replay (at least that part of it)

I’ve read a few articles already this morning that are already criticizing Major League Baseball’s replay review procedures following last night’s Cardinals/Reds game and the final play that led to a walk off Cardinals’ hit. Some have dubbed it a massive flaw in the system, but I don’t think there’s a problem with that part of it at all.

Here’s the setup. Two out and Matt Carpenter on first in the bottom of the 9th of a 3-3 game, Yadier Molina rips a ball into left field which bounces in the grass and then up over the wall, off an advertisement and back into the field of play. Reds’ left fielder Adam Duvall plays the ball and throws it back in as Carpenter rounds third base. Carpenter arrives a moment before the ball and celebration ensues.

But Dan McLaughlin and the FOX Sports Midwest guys were on it pretty quickly that it looked like it should have been a ground rule double because the ball bounced off the advertisement, which is beyond play. The Reds’ video guy rang the dugout trying to get them to challenge the call, but Reds’ manager said he didn’t hear the phone ring due to fan noise.

I’m not even sure Bryan Price is to blame here, actually.

But first let’s look to make sure if protocol of the rulebook was followed.

Except as otherwise set forth in Sections II.D.2, 3 and 5 below, to be timely, a Manager must exercise his challenge (by verbal communication and/or hand signal to an Umpire), or the Crew Chief must initiate Replay Review (if applicable pursuant to Section II.C above) before the commencement of the next play or pitch. Such challenge or request will be considered timely only if the Umpire acknowledges that communication within the time period specified above. For purposes of these Regulations, the next “play” shall commence when the pitcher is on the rubber preparing to start his delivery and the batter has entered the batter’s box (unless the defensive team initiates an appeal play in which case any call made during the play prior to the appeal still may be subject to Replay Review). A challenge to a play that ends the game must be invoked immediately upon the conclusion of the play, and both Clubs shall remain in their dugouts until the Replay Official issues his decision. No substitutions or pitching changes may take place while the Umpires are in the process of invoking Replay Review.

The added emphasis is mine, but it’s clear that the manager must challenge the play “immediately” after the play finishes. So right after Carpenter slides across home plate. And that makes sense because a questionable play would obviously present itself and at that point there is no downside to challenging the play.

After the game, Bryan Price told reporters that he was told that managers have 10 seconds after the game ends to challenge a game ending call. MLB responded, saying that there is no specific time frame involved, simply referring to the wording of “immediately” in the rule book. But I think it’s a good rule of thumb for how long immediately really is because it’s a subjective measurement. I feel like 10 seconds is more than enough time to consider the play and it’s ramifications and make the call.

So I went back and timed it. There was 20 seconds from when Carpenter slid across home plate until FOX Sports Midwest’s Dan McLaughlin told those us at home that the umpires were leaving the field. It took 12 more seconds, a total of 32 seconds, for Bryan Price to pop out of the dugout to find an umpire to challenge the call.

It’s also worth noting that the umpires congregated in front of the Reds’ dugout before leaving the field, seemingly expecting the Reds to challenge the call. But after getting no indication from the coaching staff that they were going to challenge the call, left the field.

So the Reds had every opportunity to challenge the call. In fact, the umpires did more than the rules require them to do in that situation to give the Reds an opportunity to challenge the call. They didn’t. Game over. Cardinals win.

An option for the Reds is to protest the game, but in my lifetime, Major League Baseball has only granted protests based on procedural grounds. In this instance, the rules were followed as written.

So why didn’t the Reds challenge?

They were waiting on the video guy to save them.

You see, the problem isn’t with the replay system itself. Why wouldn’t you immediately challenge that call in the hopes that some obscure ground rule might save you? What’s the downside? If you win the challenge, the game goes on. If you lose the challenge, you lose anyway. Why are you sitting there waiting on the video guy?

It’s the “let me check with my video guy first” mentality that’s permeated every team in baseball. The rules say that the managers have to initiate the challenge, but they’re not making the decision. It’s a video guy, holed up in an office under the stadium somewhere.

I don’t know about you, but I hate seeing the manager standing on the top step of the dugout, looking over at his bench coach who is on the phone with the video guy deciding whether to challenge a play or not. Why are you waiting on the video guy?

This is the problem. Teams are too dependent on the video guy.

Every link in the chain was waiting on the video guy to save them. Neither Adam Duvall nor Bryan Price knew Busch Stadium’s ground rules or weren’t even generally aware of them enough. If Duvall had known, he could have immediately brought attention that it was a ground rule double. If Price had known, he could have initiated the replay review himself before it was too late.

Most managers have spent their lifetime in the game. Bryan Price has played in 252 games and managed 483 more. That’s not counting games he watched but didn’t play in or took in as a pitching coach. He should have the ability to analyze pretty quickly if a play is worth challenging based purely on previous experience. Certainly within 10 seconds. Especially if it’s game ending.

And that’s how the rules are written. The rules are written for the manager to make the decision to review, not the video guy. As well they should be.

But nobody on the Reds apparently, except the video guy, knew the rules.

This actually goes into another way I’d change baseball’s review system. I’d give managers unlimited challenges, with the stipulation that if you lose twice, you can no longer challenge for the rest of the game. But as long as you keep getting challenges right, why not let you keep challenging? If the stated goal is to ensure you get the calls right, what’s stopping you?

Time? The games will get so long, the argument will say. Well, I’d ask what’s more important, short games or correct calls. What’s better for baseball? A 2 hour, 55 minute game with a couple blown calls or a 3 hour, 5 minute game that’s called correctly?

But the problem last night wasn’t with the review system. It was that the Reds (and every other team) relied on a guy who isn’t immediately available to immediately determine whether a challenge should be made.