Last night, Yadier Molina hit a game winning walk-off double scoring Matt Carpenter from first base to keep the Cardinals Wild Card hopes alive and well. There was just one teensy little problem. The umpires blew the call. Molina’s double hopped the fence and hit the back wall meaning the umpires should have ruled it a ground rule double and ordered Carpenter to go back to third base. Now, this is exactly the type of play that should be reversed on replay. It wasn’t, and we learned about a number of issues related to replay.
Understandably, the Major League Replay Rule states, “A challenge to a play that ends the game must be invoked immediately upon the conclusion of the play, and both Clubs shall remain in their dugouts until the Replay Official issues his decision.”
Makes sense, doesn’t it? If the play is going to end the game, why do you need to wait to hear from your team’s replay official to challenge the play? You shouldn’t. If your team is definitively going to lose on that play, you, as the manager, have to get out there and challenge the play. There is no disincentive for asking for the replay in that spot. It is managerial malpractice not to immediately ask for replay in that spot.
As an aside, with the replay rule, we have lost some of the fire and brimstone fans loved from their managers. When there was a bad call like that, before the play was over, you would see managers like Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella, jumping out from the dugout and hopping mad. They knew the play was wrong, and the umpires were going to have to hear about it IMMEDIATELY! Now, with replay, managers are more timid and reserved. They can’t just act out of pure emotion. They have to be measured and get word from their replay team as to whether or not a challenge would be successful.
But that’s the culture that has been created, and that’s exactly what Bryan Price was doing in that situation. Like Pavlov’s Dog, his inclination on a play that was questionable was to reach for the phone rather than pop out of the dugout. It was regrettable because, under the rules, he needed to challenge the play immediately. He didn’t, and by the time he figured out he should challenge, the umpires had already left the field.
Keep in mind, the umpires left the field, thereby making the call stand and ending the game, despite getting the call wrong on the field. At the end of the day, the timing aspect of the replay rules were subservient to the spirit of the replay rules, which is to get the call right so a bad call doesn’t change the outcome of the game.
When the spirit of the rule is violated by a technicality of the rule, it is time to seek out solutions on how to balance the two. Here, the solution is simple. Since a challenge for the last play of the game is required to be immediate, why not just automatically review the final play of every game if it’s questionable?
On the Molina play, the replay officials could have been reviewing the play right away, and they could have alerted the umpires that the call should have been overturned. The call would have been right, and a game that had far reaching implications in the National League Wild Card race wouldn’t have been decided on a technicality. Again, the purpose of replay is to get the call right, not to get the call right only if it is challenged by a certain time.
In fact, like the NFL with touchdowns and turnovers, the immediate replay rule should be further expanded. Major League Baseball should institute an automatic replay on every home run and end of game situation. Like the NFL, the home plate umpire can be given a buzzer that goes off alerting them to the fact that the play is under review sending the umpires to the the phones. If done properly, this will actually reduce the amount of time wasted on replays. If done properly, the calls will be right rather than subjecting everyone to hand-wringing over whether the challenge was actually done in a timely fashion.
By the way, it will also save managers like Price, and Terry Collins from earlier this season, from having egg on their faces when they didn’t challenge a call that automatically ended the game.