“Take a Page Out of Little League” – It’s Time for Major League Baseball to Implement Instant Replay Challenges

The following article was written by Benjamin Haynes, Esq.

Oct 14, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Second base umpire Jeff Nelson (left) watches as Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante (in grey) tries to dive back to second base against New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano in the 8th inning during game two of the 2012 ALCS at Yankee Stadium. Infante was called safe. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In game two of the ALCS, Detroit Tigers’ Omar Infante overran second base and was desperately trying to dive back to the bag. New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano applied the tag to Infante and clearly tagged him before Infante could even get remotely close to reaching the base. However, the umpire called Infante safe. Yankees manager Joe Girardi went out to argue the call with the umpire. Eventually, Girardi got thrown out of the ball game for excessive bantering. After the game, the umpire admitted that he missed the call.

While this blown call didn’t cost the Yankees the game, this incident hammered home the strikingly obvious issue that has been on the mind of many baseball fans, players, and general managers. Why isn’t there instant replay in Major League Baseball?

The NBA has it, the NFL has it, heck, even the Little League World Series has it. So why hasn’t the MLB introduced the instant replay to the game? When asked about the possible implementation of instant replay, vice president of baseball operations, Joe Torre, stated “We have to make sure we don’t make a knee-jerk reaction to something that’s, you know, already — we settle this tag play at second base, and all of a sudden we find, you know, something else comes up and something else comes up, and the game goes on and on forever and forever.”

Currently, Major League Baseball only allows instant replay to verify where a home run occurred. However, baseball is further exploring the option of instant replay. If MLB decides to pull the trigger, the new instant replay rule would only allow umpires to view replays to determine if 1) the fielders catch or trap fly balls and line drives, 2) the ball lands fair or foul when right near the lines, and 3) fans interference with a fielder’s chance at making a play whether fair or foul. Therefore, as Joe Torre pointed out last night, the tag incident during game two would not be one that would be reviewed under the three instant replay criteria. This seems to be a step in the right direction, yet still has fundamental flaws.

The NFL allows coaches to throw out challenge flags, which gives a team the ability to challenge a call via instant replay. MLB currently has no plans of having such challenges available to general managers even though the Little League World Series has implemented such challenges and it has worked extremely well. In the Little League World Series, a team’s coach can challenge as many times as he wants, until he has two failed challenges. Once his two failed challenges have occurred, the coach is no longer allowed to challenge a call. This system has been effective for twelve-year-old’s and it seems that such a system would work well with the big leagues. In fact, it is fairly baffling to think that the Little League World Series has better umpiring and instant replay than that of the highest level of baseball, the Major League.

Essentially, it seems as if Joe Torre is afraid of instant replay in baseball reaching a magnitude of being extremely time consuming in a game that is already inherently long. “We’re not saying it can’t happen, but right now we haven’t really come up with a conclusion on what’s the best way to go about it and not make the game drag on and go any longer than they are already going,” Torre stated.

Joe Giradi doesn’t buy this argument. Girardi stated that by the time the manager goes out onto the field to argue the play, the umpires could get together and make a decision in a speedy fashion. Further, Girardi believes that with such technology available, it doesn’t make sense not to use it to its full extent. “In this day and age when we have instant replay available to us, it’s got to change.”

It seems that getting a call correct should be held to a higher degree of importance than ensuring a speedy game. However, there is an important balance that needs to be discovered by baseball; that balance lies somewhere between keeping the game’s pace relatively fluent, and making sure the correct calls are being made. The NFL and the NBA have been successful at finding such a balance, and MLB needs to follow in their footsteps. Baseball is America’s past time, but it’s time to better the sport by implementing instant replay and giving managers the option to challenge calls.