By Brad Fauber
Several of Major League Baseball's umpires have been the subjects of a lot of scrutiny this week after a pair of mind-blowing mishaps that has left fans, players, managers and even MLB executives shaking their collective heads.
On Friday morning, the MLB released a statement acknowledging an incorrect interpretation of the rules by an umpiring crew during Thursday's Angels-Astros game, in which the umpires allowed Houston manager Bo Porter to substitute one relief pitcher for another before the first reliever had faced a batter. Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia argued the ruling to no avail, although the Angels did end up winning the game, virtually nullifying the botched ruling.
Thursday's fiasco came on the heels of Wednesday night's blunder in a game between Oakland and Cleveland, where umpires -- led by crew chief Angel Hernandez -- failed to reverse a disputed home run by Oakland's Adam Rosales that would have tied the game in the top of the ninth inning. Even after getting a chance to look at the replay of the hit -- which clearly hit the railing beyond the fence at Progressive Field and should have been ruled a home run -- Hernandez and his crew determined that the ball did not leave the ballpark and Rosales was credited with a double. The A's did not score in the inning and ended up losing 4-3.
Wednesday's blown call has once again stirred up the issue of instant replay in Major League Baseball, which is an area that the sport has been slow to embrace compared with other major sports.
The MLB's current replay system can't be blamed for what happened in the Oakland-Cleveland game on Wednesday, as the ruling came down to Hernandez's error in judgment after reviewing the play. But the blunder does epitomize the current state of instant replay in the big leagues -- the system is broken and inadequate.
I'll admit that I have always been a little unsure as to what extent instant replay should be used in baseball. The game is slow enough, and no one wants to watch an eight-hour game drag along because every other play is being reviewed on a monitor, and the human element is something that I've just accepted as part of the game.
But I've slowly begun to change my tune lately, and I've come to realize that there are ways out there to implement a competent replay system that won't hinder the pace or flow of the game on a large scale.
Many fans are in favor of a system that would allow managers to have several challenges available to them for each game, much like the system currently used in the NFL. The idea is simple enough, and it could be a logical option.
One question that I've always had when it comes to a full-blown replay system in baseball is how to decide which plays get reviewed -- you can't possibly take a timeout to review every play in a game. But with challenges, the managers themselves would have the opportunity to choose which play they want the umpires to take a second look at.
The managers could even be limited to one challenge a game -- how many times have you really seen a blatantly blown call during a nine-inning game? Umpires are generally very good at their jobs and make the correct call 99 times out of 100. A challenge could be used for that one time when an umpire makes a lapse in judgment.
Another system that could work, and is probably the most likely to happen, would be the addition of a replay official to each umpiring crew. Under this system, the replay official's job would be simply to sit in a booth and review any highly-questionable calls that are made down on the field.
No longer would entire umpire crews need to leave the field and congregate in what I can only imagine is a small room with an old-school television set to watch some grainy replay footage. The replay official could handle those duties at five times the speed.
Any new replay system that the MLB chooses to implement would almost certainly require the placement of additional cameras throughout all 30 of the league's ballparks, which would not be cheap. But it's hard to imagine commissioner Bud Selig not giving the OK for such a purchase if it means providing an extra sense of credibility to the league's umpires.
The MLB needs to realize that technology is advancing at an incredible rate, and the opportunities for that technology to help improve sports are endless. Fans want replay, players and managers want replay, and even the umpires want replay. It's time that Major League Baseball joins the rest of the world in embracing what technology has to offer.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org