Last night, Al Leiter suggested that baseball bring instant replay into baseball via challenge flags. The umpires had just pretty badly blown a call on Robinson Cano at first base. Cano was easily (even to the naked eye) safe, but was called out. In a one-run game, that play could easily have made the difference.
Baseball needs instant replay. Most sports these days have it on important plays, but baseball severely limits its replay to home run calls. The reason normally cited is that the game is too long. As pitch counts and pitching changes have increased, so has the average run time of a ballgame. Instant replay would likely add to this, as umpires leave the field to review a play in the clubhouse.
A two-part solution can change this. The first is to implement challenge flags, which I’ve written about before. A manager would have a limited number of flags – one or two – that he could throw on the ground every game. He can challenge any call that goes against the team, other than balls and strikes or check swings. For the most part, this means outs at the plate and home run calls. Once the manager uses up his challenge flags, they are gone. You might add in some provision where an umpire can veto the challenge if its an obvious stall tactic while you wait for a relief pitcher to warm up. Another variant could also allow you to challenge balls and strikes, although that could get tedious, I imagine.
The second part is to establish an NHL-style “war room” to evaluate the calls. Whenever a play is reviewed in the National Hockey League, the referees walk over to a phone and call up the NHL’s facility in Toronto. There, they monitor every game for calls like these, and make a ruling. The whole process takes almost no time at all. In baseball, the crew chief could have a special cell phone in his back pocket, call MLB HQ, and figure out the ruling in the same amount of time that a TV broadcaster takes. You wouldn’t add much time at all to the game.
The upside? You would get the call right, almost every time. MLB umpires are good, but they aren’t infallible. Ask Armondo Gallaraga. I feel like a challenge flag would also add a little bit of drama to the game. The downside? I can’t see a significant one. Games might get marginally longer. But are we really well served watching Joe Girardi pretend to argue with Joe West for 2 minutes? Can anyone think of any real drawbacks here?