For baseball, instant replay is quite a challenge

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin, left, argues with

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin, left, argues with umpire Angel Hernandez after a review failed to turn a double by Adam Rosales into a home run in the ninth inning. (May 8, 2013) (Credit: AP)

The day after Buck Showalter inadvertently argued a Rays double into a home run instead -- oops! -- the Orioles' manager joked about the changes that might be in store for the umpires, as well as instant replay, for the 2014 season.

"I'll get to throw a flag next season, right?" Showalter said.

Probably not, but there will be differences, and as Joe Torre said last week, everything still is on the table. Torre, who oversees such decisions as Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, seemed to lean against the whole challenge system, currently used by the NFL, with coaches whipping out red flags tucked into their socks or elsewhere.

"It's something we've discussed," Torre said. "Personally, I'm not crazy about it. Managers have to make enough decisions. We've had issues in the past where a manager will go out and argue, or a player will go out and argue, then they'll look at the TV and then start yelling again from the replay.

"We discourage that. In football, obviously they get the word from upstairs, go ahead and throw the flag. We've tried to stay away from technology telling us what to do. If a manager goes out to argue and we decide to go to replay, that's another thing. We've talked about the challenge system, and there are other people that think differently than I do."

Of course, the concept is only half the battle. It gets more complicated. How many challenges would a manager be allowed?

In the NFL, coaches are penalized for a timeout for losing a challenge, so there is a significant risk involved. Baseball doesn't have such an obvious currency to spend on a challenge. But with so many disputed calls this season, the expansion of replay -- with challenges or not -- seems to be much more urgent because of the increasing heat on umpires, who have become victims of HD television and super-slow-motion technology.

"Joe likes to say life isn't perfect," commissioner Bud Selig said, "and it isn't a perfect game. That's been true for 100 years."

Selig was among those who were reluctant to push for replay, and after adding it for disputed calls involving home runs, he preferred to restrict it to those situations. One of his biggest concerns was further stretching out the time of games. He thought constantly poring over video would become a drag on the action and hurt the entertainment value for his TV partners.

This argument usually is wrapped in nostalgia about the sport of baseball itself, and for someone like Torre, who played and managed during the simpler analog ages, it's difficult to implement these types of changes. The human element of umpires, warts and all, was always a big part of that.

"We have a rhythm in this game that we certainly don't want to disrupt," Torre said. "I'm an old-school guy. For the team that gets a bad break, there's a team on the other side of the field that gets a good one. I think over 162 games, it's a pretty good balance. The postseason is a different situation."

In the playoffs, with compressed schedules, there is no time for things to even out, as in Torre's "old-school" purview. But that's not unique to baseball. By most accounts, the officiating in the Knicks-Pacers second-round matchup was heavy-handed at best and lopsided at worst.

With incessant whistles, games that looked ugly on the court were rendered nearly unwatchable by constant stoppages in play. And the frequent replay check-ins toward the end of games -- called for by the referees themselves -- can create competitive disadvantages by inserting extended timeouts.

Baseball is well aware of the flaws that other sports have to deal with, and they anticipate having their own issues regardless of what new system they choose to implement or how many more types of calls become subject to instant replay. From the "Hawk-Eye" imaging camera for fair and foul calls -- it's used to great effect in professional tennis -- to tag plays at any base, it's plenty to assimilate by Opening Day of next season.

But as Torre mentioned, the regular season seems to be less of a concern than the playoffs, in which controversial calls threaten to overshadow the series they occur in, from the first round through the Fall Classic.

"We don't want a lot more conversation about [calls] than the game itself," Torre said. "That's a concern to me. One of the decisions we have to make is how much of this do we want to do without really disrupting things and putting people to sleep. To get those bang-bang plays at first base, the technology is there. We just have to make sure we can apply it to what we need to do."

Last season, Bobby Valentine, during his one year as Red Sox manager, suggested that MLB should go as far as to use technology to call balls and strikes. Torre said that will not be subject to review -- at least in this round of discussions -- but there will be a renewed push for more transparency from the umpires. Unlike managers and players, umpires are not compelled to speak with the media, who often seek explanations after games.

Many umpires do, anyway, but others, such as Angel Hernandez, can add fuel to the fire with their behavior. After a disputed call earlier this month, Hernandez told a reporter she could not tape the interview and could only write down his responses. And what was the issue? A blown call on an obvious home run that was not corrected even after looking at the replay. Said Torre, "It's not an easy job."

Magic numbers

59 - Seconds of video showing an Astros vendor using the men’s room with his tray of snow cones on the floor of the stall. The vendor was fired, and the incident made for an uncomfortable first week for new team president Reid Ryan, the son of Nolan. As if the Astros’ season wasn’t bad enough.

36 - Braves retired in a row by the Pirates’ Harvey Haddix, who had a perfect game for 12 innings before taking the loss in the 13th back on this date (May 26) in 1959. Haddix lost his perfect bid on a throwing error by Don Hoak and lost the game on Joe Adcock’s homer (later ruled a double after Adcock passed Hank Aaron on the basepath). Among the 19,194 attending that night in Milwaukee — Bud Selig.

20 - Minutes of conversation between the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly and Andre Ethier, who was upset with the manager’s comments saying that some players were “not competing.’’ Mattingly didn’t name names, but with Ethier’s 15 RBIs and recent benching, he evidently figured it out himself.

4.56 - ERA of Marlins’ Alex Sanabia, who admitted to spitting on the baseball in a game this past week against the Phillies. Sanabia said he didn’t know it was illegal, adding, “My intention was I need more grip.’’ Judging by his ERA, he might need more spit.

.227 - Team batting average of the Nationals, who entered yesterday ranked 29th, sandwiched between the Mets (.228) and Marlins (.221). With his club’s ineptitude, Davey Johnson said he’s not shaving until they hit better. Said the manager, “I feel I couldn’t get any uglier.’’

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