Rules reaction: Expanded replay system embraced
Managers, players express approval for changes that could make profound difference
Even now, more than seven years after the fact, the memory still riles former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
When Major League Baseball announced last week that expanded instant replay had been approved for the 2014 season, Braves president -- and chairman of the committee that formulated the proposal -- John Schuerholz spoke repeatedly about its potential impact. One call could make the difference in one game, which could make the difference in reaching the playoffs, which could make the difference in having a chance to win the World Series, he explained several times.
And if that seems like a reach, well, Manuel will tell you that it isn't. He still vividly recalls the night of Sept. 26, 2006, at Washington's RFK Stadium, the National League Wild Card-contending Phillies against the last-place Nationals. In the second inning, with two on and two out, second baseman Chase Utley hit a hooking fly to right field that was called foul. From the visitors' dugout, Manuel couldn't see the right-field corner. His base coaches weren't sure. So Manuel didn't argue. Utley popped out to end the inning.
Then team videographer Kevin Camiscioli came out from the clubhouse. He told Manuel that replays showed that the ball Utley hit had nicked the foul pole. It should have been a home run. The Phils went on to lose, 4-3. Coming into the game, they had been tied with the Dodgers for the NL Wild Card lead. At the end of the night, the Phillies were a game behind. They no longer controlled their destiny. The Dodgers went to the postseason. The Phils went home.
"That was one of the biggest plays that helped keep us out of the playoffs," Manuel, now a senior advisor for the Phillies, grumbled this week from his Florida home. "And they had just painted the foul poles. They were big and round. That definitely played a role in that game."
Two years later, replay reviews involving potential home runs began. Even if it had existed in 2006, Manuel could only have requested that the umpires take a look. This season, replay will cover about 90 percent of all situations, and just as crucially, managers will have the right to challenge at least one play per game.
In 2007, Philadelphia won the first of its five straight NL East titles. So Schuerholz's postulate isn't far-fetched at all. And while it's true that the Phils had other chances to win that game in Washington -- they went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position -- it's also true that the Nats already had the bullpen up. An Utley homer might have knocked starter Ramon Ortiz out of the game, and who knows what might have happened after that?
"We were lucky," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said afterward.
Which is a pretty good explanation why baseball people, by and large, have embraced the great technological leap forward that became a reality at the most recent Owners Meetings. They know that while the breaks may even out in the long run, that isn't much comfort if a mistake might cost their team a chance at the big shiny trophy.
"I was definitely an advocate for something," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "When you're at a baseball game and 40,000 people know the answer and we can't do anything about it, that's frustrating. ... I applaud what they've done, and I do think it's a great first step."
Said Rangers manager Ron Washington: "I think they're trying to get things right, and if that can help get things right, then I'm all for it. I just want the right call."
Schuerholz has stressed that expanded replay is a three-year rollout and that he anticipates fine-tuning the system each year. That, too, has gone over well.
"You want to pick and choose when you want to use it, but the reality is every ballclub and every city will set their dugouts and video areas so they have the capability to see things in real time so they can use it to their advantage," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "You don't want to waste a challenge. In the end, everybody is trying to get the call right. It's supposed to expedite the game a little bit. We'll see. It's kind of like anything -- it's kind of organic and ongoing and subject to change, depending on the situation and how it develops."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle added, "I'm very optimistic. It's a positive step forward. I know MLB has always put a priority on being mindful to adopt things that improve the game without disrupting it's flow. So not only will we now have a means for getting those calls right, but also for keeping the game moving along better and keeping managers in the game. Because you can still go out there and argue, but at some point, you'll have to cut to the chase. The umpires will say, 'Are you done yelling? You want a review?' And that's a great thing.
"We're moving forward. I know this won't be a finished product, but it's a very positive first step. There will remain a lot of conversation. But we're being creative, and we have a chance to make history and set a precedent."
Cards right-hander Adam Wainwright weighed in with a player's perspective.
"It's always better to go step by step," he said. "As we grow this instant-replay thing, we'll find out if we have a greater need for more of it as we go.
"I'm glad they did something. Those umpires are working so hard. It's very hard to make all the right calls. We're very hard on them when they make the one bad call a game, and we don't ever say anything when they make the right call. They're kind of like the offensive linemen of baseball. They only get credit when it's bad. They probably need a little help, and we'll take it."
Had the new system been in effect in 2006, Manuel would have had a decision to make. Would he have used his challenge even though it was only the second inning? Even though Manuel couldn't see the ball and his coaches and Utley didn't protest?
There's no way to say for sure. But with hindsight, Manuel certainly would have liked to have had the option that managers will have starting this season.