- Jim Bowden, ESPN Insider
The three major rule changes/adjustments that MLB made over the winter -- instant replay, banning collisions at home and the "transfer" rule -- have already caused a lot of controversy this season. On one hand, I think MLB should be commended for being proactive, but it's clear all of the modifications need a little tweaking.
While I understand why the sport would want to wait until the winter to change anything, I think MLB should look to make some needed tweaks before the first of May, even if it means invoking the "best interests of baseball" clause. Remember, MLB instituted instant replay on home runs in August 2008, so there is precedent for major rule changes during the season.
Here are the changes I would recommend for each controversial rule.
1. Instant Replay
Intent: To make sure obvious mistakes get corrected, and quickly.
What's worked: Pretty much every review -- once it has reached command center -- has been completed in a timely manner, and MLB Advanced Media seems to have created a technologically sound system.
What hasn't worked: The process before the challenge and the umpiring in the command center. Managers are wasting time by stalling, walking out slowly and chatting with the ump before being told by a player or coach if they should challenge. The amount of wasted time for non-challenged plays is unacceptable, and the fact that we have to review plays just to review plays doesn't make sense. The worst part has been the few instances when the video umpires in New York have blown calls that should have been reversed. The Red Sox-Yankees game of last Saturday was case and point when Yankees shortstop Dean Anna's foot was clearly off the base and Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts was clearly tagging him out. The umpires called him safe, and when it was reviewed, the umpire at the command center didn't overturn it. How is that possible when this was a nationally televised game where any fan was able to see five angles, with three of them clearly showing us he was out? (The command center has all the video feeds and replays that we had.) Human error? Laziness? Busy watching other games? Not spending the time to see all the angles? Not using slow motion? Going to the bathroom? Eating a tuna sandwich? All of the above? Some of the above? Angel Hernandez? It's unacceptable in any case.
How to fix it: There should be one video umpire assigned to each game. The present system has an umpire checking multiple games at the same time. Secondly, they need to make that umpire accountable by announcing his name with the other four umpires at the time of the game. That umpire should be subject to the same accountability as the four umpires on the field; he's part of the crew.
They should be reviewing every play before it's officially challenged by the team so that they have an answer for the ump on the field as soon as he puts the headset on to talk to command center. If it's inconclusive, then they shouldn't overturn a call. But with today's technology, there really shouldn't be many, if any, inconclusive calls. The Dean Anna decision can't take place. And the change can be made immediately.
At the end of the season, baseball should eradicate the manager's challenge system. Instead there should be a five-umpire system, with four on the field and one in the command center in New York. On every close play, whether the manager comes out and argues or not, the video umpire should be studying all of the angles and speak directly to the crew chief and overturn any missed calls. Replay shouldn't be about manager strategy, it should be about correcting mistakes.
Baseball is getting more calls right than ever before, we just need to tweak it to make the system more efficient.
2. Banning home-late collisions
Intent: To reduce concussions and other serious injuries to catchers.
What's worked: There hasn't been a single injury to a catcher because of a collision.
What hasn't worked: Umpires, managers and players all seem to be interpreting the new rule differently, and there is a lot of confusion about what constitutes blocking the plate. We're seeing indecisive runners, and I could easily see injuries stemming from them not knowing how to behave and making an awkward slide.
How to fix it: Adopt the college rule, which is basically as follows: A fielder can block the plate when he has clear possession of the ball, and a runner is prohibited from making "unnecessary and violent" contact. And any contact the runner does make must be below the waist. In other words, a runner can make a hard slide through a fielder, but he can't barrel over him. College players have no problem with this rule, and a large number of MLB players should be familiar with it from having played college ball.
Managers Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals have been preaching this concept from day one, and why the industry doesn't listen to them is beyond me.
Intent: Enforce an existing rule.
What's worked: The communication of the new rule to the managers and players.
What hasn't worked: Just about everything. Sure, they all understand it -- it's just that no one likes it or agrees with it. At least no general manager, manager or player I've spoken with. This is the rule change that makes no sense to me, as I can't remember anyone having an issue with it to begin with. It used to be accepted that if a fielder dropped the ball while making a transfer, he got credit for the catch as long as he had possession for a split-second before the transfer. Now that doesn't count as a catch, and fielders and runners are confused. I understand why we wanted instant replay. I understand why we have the new collision rule. No one was complaining about the transfer rule.
How to fix it: Go back to the same way it was called last year and every other year before that.
Again, I think MLB should be commended for wanting to adjust with the times, but they should also be willing to adapt on the fly. They did it in 2008 when they instituted instant replay on home runs, and I hope they show a similar willingness to change this season.