Instant replay a welcome addition

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Los Angeles Angels' David Freese waits to bat Los Angeles Angels' David Freese waits to bat as umpires Hal Gibson and Gerry Davis, right, check an instant replay during an exhibition spring training baseball game Thursday, March 6, 2014, in Tempe, Ariz. Photo Credit: AP / Morry Gash

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The critics of instant replay probably thought they got their "told you so'' moment Saturday in the third inning of the Yankees-Twins game when Joe Girardi decided to challenge a safe call by second-base umpire Marvin Hudson.

As soon as Hudson signaled the challenge, he and plate umpire Jeff Kellogg walked over to the Yankees' on-deck circle, where a television technician handed both a set of headphones. On the other end was a replay umpire, who was camped in a TV trailer outside Hammond Stadium.

This was the process everyone had feared, right? The game grinding to a halt, Masahiro Tanaka's rhythm broken, the "Jeopardy'' theme chiming through the ballpark speakers.

Well, not quite.

The trio talked for a bit, and shortly afterward, Kellogg overturned Hudson by making the out call with his fist -- which, by the way, was correct. Aaron Hicks' slide clearly stopped him short of the base and Dean Anna alertly slapped the tag on his foot. It wound up saving Tanaka and the Yankees at least one run.

Total elapsed time of the review? A whopping 44 seconds.

That wasn't so painful, was it? For about the time it takes to pour a few draft beers or scan your Twitter feed, the umpiring crew not only watched and discussed the challenged play but, more importantly, got the call right. And isn't that the point?

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"The great thing about it is, no one wants to be wrong, whether it's me or them,'' Girardi said. "There's been a lot of times I've argued calls that I thought for sure I was right -- and I was wrong. But now we have replay to assure everyone.''

Another thing to remember: Down here in spring training, we're only seeing a rudimentary form of the instant-replay protocol that Major League Baseball will use once the post-Sydney regular season begins. Under that system, the field umpires will communicate with a central replay umpire situated at the MLB.com offices in Manhattan.

So as soon as the umpire picks up the stadium phone or headset, a decision will have been made. By then, there should be no need for discussion or toggling the video back and forth. MLB officials are hoping to keep delays at a maximum of two minutes or so -- and targeting a much shorter time frame.

"They're going to have the replay checked out within five seconds, they say -- five to 10 seconds,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They might have a couple calls that might be really close and they have to look at. But for the most part, they're going to have the answer.''

And the managers -- as managers do -- will try their best to game the system. On Saturday, Girardi took a leisurely stroll from the dugout on his way to speak with Hudson, giving Brett Weber, the Yankees' baseball ops assistant, a window to look at the TV replay. Once Weber determines whether the play is challenge-worthy, he uses a walkie-talkie to alert bench coach Tony Peña, who gives Girardi the thumbs up or down.

The hardest part for managers? Taking those measured, methodical steps on their way to that on-field discussion while inside they're boiling over.

"I've never walked out to talk to an umpire in my life,'' Gardenhire said. "Now I'm walking and stalling and I'm saying to myself, 'This doesn't feel right.' Normally, I'm on a dead sprint and my face is red.''

In the past, all that rage went for naught. But this season, managers will be comforted by the knowledge they can challenge an umpire's decision -- and can be rewarded for it. For the first time in a manager's career, he won't be dismissed as a raving lunatic -- at least if the call is overturned.

"Now you got a chance,'' Girardi said. "It feels pretty good, actually.''

The system is not without its imperfections, however. There will be instances, such as reviews of fair or foul calls, in which umpires must figure out where to put runners. That could get complicated, and in some cases, downright ugly.

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The way the game of baseball operates may be changing, but the people will be the same -- and they remain human, after all. "When the umpires start guessing where which guys could have been where, that's when I'm going to get nervous,'' Gardenhire said. "That's not going to be fun.''

Sitting at his office desk, Gardenhire paused, thinking of the likely outcome -- his ejection -- in that frustrating scenario.

"That's probably when I'll be back up in here,'' he said. "Drinking a beer.''

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