Replay embraces future while honoring past
With speed and accuracy, expanded system passes first series of tests
They warned us the system wouldn't be perfect. They asked for our patience. They said the whole thing was a work in progress.
On the other hand ...
Instant replay review breezed past its first round of tests on Monday afternoon, as three managers asked for challenges. A fourth challenged call, and the first initiated by the umpire crew, was upheld by review later in Oakland.
This was a day of history, a day when the game changed in ways we'll all need a little time getting our minds around.
First things first.
The first three challenges took 58 seconds, 90 seconds and 2 1/2 minutes to decide. Everything begins right here.
Commissioner Bud Selig supported the expanded use of replay only after being convinced that the technology existed to make clean, quick, correct decisions.
Selig had watched enough pro and college football games to understand that he didn't want a system if it meant the action would be halted for long stretches of time.
In short, baseball wasn't going to have replay just to have it. Baseball wanted to do it right. Still, Braves president John Schuerholz, one of the architects of the system, said he saw it as a three-year project, as flaws were detected.
Yet Schuerholz, too, had to be convinced the thing would work. He also knew that dozens of baseball officials poured their heart and soul into the system over the last two years.
By the time 42 tons of equipment were shipped to ballparks and 172 miles of video cable installed, baseball officials were cautiously confident that they'd done things right.
On Monday, they were proven to be correct. This was the day baseball once more integrated incredible technology with the national pastime.
Baseball changed. Yet baseball stayed the same.
Here's the part that may take you some time to get your mind around. Baseball isn't just reviewing close calls this season. Baseball is making lightning-quick decisions -- that is, doing everything it can to get the call right.
And then thanks to the breathtaking technology at Major League Baseball Advanced Media, those decisions are being flashed to ballpark video boards, hand-held devices, cellphones and laptops around the world. All in an instant.
It's not just that baseball wants to get every single call right, or as right as the technology will allow. It's that baseball wants to bring fans closer to the action, to make them if not part of the process, at least an intimate observer.
No sport has done a better job of respecting its past while embracing the technology of the digital age.
In rapid order, three calls were challenged in two games on Monday afternoon. One was confirmed, two overturned.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria became the first manager to use a challenge to check an out call at first base by umpire Bob Davidson against Chicago baserunner Jeff Samardzija.
Davidson checked with home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck, who then talked to the Replay Operations Center at MLBAM's headquarters in New York. Ninety seconds later, the call was confirmed, and fans at PNC Park were shown the decisive video on the scoreboard.
Shortly after that, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez became the first to win a challenge. After umpire Greg Gibson called Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun safe in the bottom of the sixth inning on a play at first, replay officials needed just 58 seconds to overturn the call.
Back to Cubs-Pirates.
In the top of the 10th inning, Pittsburgh reliever Bryan Morris attempted to pick off Emilio Bonifacio. Davidson called Bonifacio safe. Bucs manager Clint Hurdle asked for a replay.
Back in New York, they needed 2 1/2 minutes to rule that Morris had indeed gotten Bonifacio out. Call overturned.
In Oakland, A's catcher John Jaso tagged out Michael Brantley on a play at the plate in the sixth inning. Crew chief Mike Winters asked for a review to determine if Jaso properly blocked the plate under MLB's new rules to curtail collisions. The play was upheld, but the Indians retained their challenge.
And so, something splendid unfolded across Major League Baseball on Monday. Something historic. Something that moved the game in the right direction.
As vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre, another architect of the system, said last week, the entire thing is about having the outcome decided by the players and managers.
"You don't want a manager going home, thinking, 'If that one call hadn't gone against me ...'"
Baseball moved toward that goal on Monday. Rapidly. Splendidly.