There really is nothing like October baseball. Each batter, each ground ball, each first to third, each pitch matters. The bullpens are more important than ever. Each starter is expected to get through 4 innings. That will only be heightened in the upcoming Championship Series for each league with the Yankees playing the Astros and the Cubs up against the Dodgers. This should be fun.
One thing that has been brought to the forefront this postseason is what is reviewable, when you should and shouldn’t challenge a call. Yankee’s manager Joe Girardi doesn’t challenge a clear foul ball off the knob of the bat of Lonnie Chisenhall that was ruled a hit by pitch in game 2 of the ALDS and later that inning Francisco Lindor hits a Grand Slam. *His only impact on the series (I’m not bitter…)* Girardi is absolutely destroyed for not challenging the call by sports talk radio and debate shows across the nation in the days between Game 2 and Game 3.
In Game 5 of the NLDS, Cubs manager Joe Maddon challenged a pickoff play at first where Nationals Labaton was way too far off in his secondary lead and the Cubs looked like they almost got him out. That’s when the challenge came into play. The whole time during the replays on the live broadcast on TBS, commentator Ron Darling was trying to decide whether or not it was “clear” if Rizzo held the tag on the runner when his foot popped off the bag by an inch for less than a second. The runner beat the throw, and in any other field (college, high school, little league, the MLB 5 years ago) the runner is safe. There would be a “wow that was close” but there wouldn’t be an uproar that he was safe, so that brings up the question of replay.
In a game where the “neighborhood” play exists at second base (on a double play where the shortstop just has to be in the neighborhood of the bag, a.k.a. they slide their foot behind without touching the bag for the force out) how can we feel good about challenges where runners beat the ball to the base, and the momentum of their slide takes them off the base for half of a second and you can only see that in super slow motion? I had similar feelings on the replay being used for this instance with Francisco Lindor on Opening Day this year. A super slow motion replay shows the momentum took the runner (Lindor) off the base for a split second that wouldn’t be seen otherwise, and thus he was called out. I understand the idea of wanting to get every call right, but when does it take away from the purity of the game? Or, in this case, when does it hurt a losing team in more ways than one?
In the 5th inning of NLDS Game 5, Matt Wieters, the Nationals’ Catcher, gets hit in the mask by Javier Baez’s bat on a dropped third strike. The ball proceeds to go to the backstop, and Wieters in a frenzy throws the ball into right field allowing Addison Russell to score and extend the Cubs’ lead. Upon the play being finished, Wieters complained to the home plate umpire about getting hit in the mask by Baez’s bat, which by rule, would impose a dead ball situation and not allowing the runners to advance on the drop third strike. This would have been the third out of the inning, and have stopped the momentum of the Cubs. So, simply just review the play right? The replay would show he got hit, thus overturning the call and getting it right. Unfortunately for the Nationals, this play is not reviewable at this time by MLB rules. So, there was nothing to be done to “get the call right” which is why the replay was instituted in the first place.
So, my question is, what should be reviewable? How can we use expanding technology to the advantage of the game, without ruining the purity of America’s Pastime? In my opinion, the replay was instituted to change blatant missed calls. In 2008, when it began, it was only to be used for whether or not a homerun was truly a homerun and not fan interference/hit a railing beyond the field of play and bounced back into the field of play, or whether it was fair or foul. Challenges were only to be initiated by the crew chief. In 2014, the current system was put into place where each team is allotted one challenge and if they get that correct, they have the right to continue to challenge throughout the game. In the 8th inning, the crew chief can initiate a review also.
Under this system the following is reviewable: Homeruns, Ground Rule Doubles, Force Outs, Tags (whether runner was tagged/touched the base), Fair/Foul, Catch/Trap (caught in the air or trapped on a short hop), Interference on base paths, Scorekeeping issues, Time Plays (run scored before third out), and Hit by Pitch. Now all of these seem reasonable to be reviewable, but how much is too much? Is it not enough? I think these all make sense, but at the same time, common sense needs to come into play on these reviews. A runner is safe if he slides into the base beating the ball. In my opinion, as long as he doesn’t slide all the way through the base, you are safe. Don’t nit-pick the detail that his momentum came off the bag for .025 seconds while the tag may or may not still have been applied.
I am all for technology improving the ability to make sure we have correct calls in our sporting events. But, let’s be smart with how we use it, and make sure we don’t let it overtake the came completely.