A few weeks ago I wrote about the ever-increasing length of baseball games, and how it is frustrating a lot of fans and hurting the sport’s chances to appeal to a changing marketplace. The average length of a game is quickly approaching three hours. In fact, the only quick thing about baseball these days is how quickly the length of the games is growing.
So MLB, responsive as ever to the desires of its fan base, has decided to expand instant replay in 2014.
Oh, wait . . .
Yes, games almost certainly will get longer if the new instant replay rules are approved during the offseason. Blown calls can be overturned, but at a cost. So now we have to choose between greater accuracy on the field — or boredom in the stands and the recliners. Some choice.
The owners were briefed on the proposed changes last week and will vote on them at their November meeting; 75 percent must approve the changes. The players’ and umpires’ unions also must sign off on the new rules, but apparently both groups have been receptive to the idea.
This season, only boundary disputes involving home runs are reviewable. Under the new rules, not all plays will be reviewable, but many apparently will be. Which ones? MLB isn’t saying.
John Schuerholz, the Braves’ president and a member of the committee that proposed the changes, gave this hint: “Reviewable plays will cover 89 percent of those incorrect calls that were made in the past. The 11 percent remaining are in the non-reviewable [category], which can still be argued by the manager. And the manager can still request that the umpires get together and discuss it to see if anybody else on the crew saw it differently. But it’s not reviewable.”
So clearly Schuerholz and his fellow committee members, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, have a list in mind, and it apparently covers a lot of ground if it includes 89 percent of plays “in the past,” although what constitutes “the past” is also unclear.
Baseball has a problem with blown calls, and it has a problem with game length. You can’t make everyone happy, of course. The new system should eliminate some of the wretched calls, but there is no way it doesn’t increase the length of a game.
How will the system work? A manager may request one review in the first six innings, and two more until the end of the game, including extra innings. If the manager’s challenge from the first six innings is upheld, he retains that challenge, so he can challenge again within those first six innings.
Managers can still run onto the field to argue non-reviewable calls, but they cannot argue reviewable calls. A manager either must challenge those or remain on the bench. That might reduce the number of arguments on the field, which might shorten games a bit. But there is no escaping the fact that the new rules have the potential for three or more reviews per team in each game. That will certainly lengthen them.
Schuerholz asserts that reviews by MLB Advanced Media will be shorter than the current system.
“Now our replays take three minutes and four seconds on average,” he said. “And we expect now that [future] replays will take a minute [and] 15 [seconds].”
That might be true, but with all the camera angles available these days, that seems optimistic. We don’t see a lot of quick rulings in the NFL, for instance.
The replay changes — assuming they are approved — aren’t set in stone. The system used in 2014 might be changed for 2015.
What won’t change is the length of games, unless baseball is willing to tackle the fidgeting, the digging in and stepping out at the plate, the fastening and unfastening of batting gloves, the twitching of the pitcher. (Of course, TV commercial breaks also have contributed mightily, but because those produce revenue, there is no point tilting at that particular windmill.)
It’s a noble goal, cutting down on blown calls. But it’s going to come with a price. There’s no point in calling a flawless game if no one is watching.
For previous Tracee Hamilton columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.