In Case You Weren’t Already Aware, MLB’s Replay System is Awful

Matt Szczur was safe.

The play was closer than it should have been and had Szczur just slid directly into the plate instead of trying to sneak his hand in on the way by, I probably wouldn’t have filled my diaper and tried to incite my fellow online villagers last night. I’m sure it didn’t help matters that the Cubs were only up 1-0 at the time and hadn’t really been able to mount much of an offensive attack in support of Jason Hammel.

When Anthony Rizzo rapped a sharp single into the hole on the left side vacated by the shift, third base coach Gary Jones was sending Szczur from second all the way. Georgie Sunshine didn’t appear to be offering much in the way of guidance, but the runner knew it was going to be a close play and that he had to get down. Had Ramon Flores made a perfect throw from left, Szczur’s probably out easily. Flores fired wide, forcing catcher Martin Maldonado to stretch away from the plate to retrieve the throw before swipe-tagging Szczur on the forearm.

Home plate umpire Sam Holbrook, standing right on top of the play, made a fist and punched the air emphatically. Out.

[beautifulquote align=”right”]Szczur had gotten his hand in just a fraction of a second prior to the tag.[/beautifulquote]

Joe Maddon immediately called for a headset in order to review the call, which had been obscured by the umpire during the live broadcast. It was immediately clear upon replay, however, that Szczur had gotten his hand in just a fraction of a second prior to the tag. I’m less than an impartial observer, though the announcers shared my confidence in a reversal of the call on the field. And while I know most local broadcasters are possessed of varying degrees of homerism, Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies are far from a pair of biased fanboys.

I’m paraphrasing, but I believe they said something along the lines of “He’s as safe as you can be without being safe.” Whatever was actually said, I agreed. Watch the play for yourself and see what you think.

The stills, whether from the featured image or the video thumbnail, don’t really do the play justice and I’ve softened my stance on the egregiousness of the call and the review in the time since it all went down. I think the Cubs putting the game out of reach by hanging a crooked number the following inning helped a little. Javy Baez hammering a homer to account for two of those runs was a soothing salve as well.

[beautifulquote align=”right”]MLB’s replay system is not only a joke, it’s laughably hypocritical.[/beautifulquote]

Let’s just say Szczur actually was out. Or that, as is so often the case, it was one of those plays that was going to remain as called on the field because their wasn’t enough evidence to overturn. I still don’t really believe that, but it’s probably the case and we’re going to accept it as a given anyway because we have to. Even under those shrug-your-shoulders-and-move-on conditions, the replay system is not only a joke, it’s laughably hypocritical.

We want to get calls right, I understand that. In fact, I heartily endorse using available technology to ensure that the calls on the field are correct whenever possible. And while some may lament the marginalization of the game’s human element, that sentiment surely pales in comparison to the overwhelming desire to ensure that the players, not the umpires, determine the outcome.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has not been shy about his wishes to make baseball more appealing to the masses, particularly kids and Millennials. We’ve seen time between innings shortened, there are pitch clocks being worked into the game, and Manfred has even talked openly about the potential to limit the number of pitching changes in a game. All because members of the target market have no attention span and need to be constantly entertained lest the inexorable pull of their mobile devices lure them away from the action on the field.

Get the calls right, keep the games short. Seems like a simple enough strategy.

Until you get a play like the Cubs had last night and the the umpires stop the game FOR FOUR MINUTES to communicate with the replay booth in New York. We’ll limit the time a coach can be on the field or that a team can warm up between innings, yet we can have a seemingly interminable pause to look at a play over and over and not change a thing.

I’m all for getting it right, but not at the cost of the integrity and flow of the game. If you can’t make a definitive call to overturn after a couple views, maybe 45 to 60 seconds at most, the call stands. Simple as that. One way or the other, fans will be upset when a call goes against their team. When you stop a game for several minutes, you’ve worked them into a froth. And that’s just the folks in the ballpark. What about the viewers at home, who have flipped over to something else while they wait?

There are times when the replay system works flawlessly and the umpires return a verdict within 30 seconds or so. The game moves on and we’re comfortable with the call that was made. While limiting the time under the hood might not improve accuracy, it would go a long way toward easing the displeasure of fans at the ballpark and on TV. And isn’t it that latter group that’s paying all the bills, Mr. Manfred?

Maybe it’s just me, though. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks it’s insanely stupid to see a game stopped for as long as Tuesday night’s Cubs/Brewers game was. Maybe I’m too old and out of touch with the demographic MLB’s trying to reach and kids actually love watching a couple old men strap on headsets to talk to an unseen cadre of reviewers a thousand miles away. That makes as much sense to me as the popularity of some of these Instagram and YouTube personalities, though, so it could well be true.

Basically, get off my lawn. Wait, are you actually on my lawn? Wait here for an indefinite amount of time while I head back inside my house to review the footage from my surveill…Hey, what’s so funny! Come back here, I’m not through with you!

Fix it, Manfred.

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