Expanded instant replay has been officially approved for the 2014 season. The protocol is a work in progress, but it can be summed up in the following steps:

  • To determine whether to challenge a play, managers will be permitted to communicate with a video specialist in the Clubhouse, who has access to the same video available to the Replay Officials. No video equipment will be available in the dugout;
  • Managers must verbally notify the Crew Chief in a ‘timely manner’ and indicate which portion of the play he’s challenging;
  • Once the replay review is invoked, the Crew Chief will signal to the official scorer that the play is under review;
  • The Crew Chief will have a designated communication area near home plate where they have hard-wired headset connected to the ‘Replay Command Center’ in New York;
  • MLB Umps will be staffed as ‘Replay Officials’ at the Replay Command Center which is located in New York City;
  • The Replay Command Center will have direct access to the video from most cameras in the ballpark in real-time;
  • If the Replay Official overturns a call, he must use his best judgement to determine where to place runner if the play was called correctly;
  • The field umpires will not have access to the video feed and cannot protest the Replay Official’s decision;
  • The home team can’t show replays on their scoreboard, which is a little weird. 

Alike most replay rules in the NFL, there are a few caveats:

  • Managers receive two challenges per game, but they lose the second challenge if the first one is unsuccessful;
  • Starting in the 7th inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call; 
  • Home runs calls that are currently subject to instant replay review will continue to be reviewed at the Crew Chief’s discretion. Managers can request that umpires review a home run call, but managers cannot challenge home run calls. 

Here is a full list of reviewable plays:

  • Home runs;
  • Ground rule doubles;
  • Fan interference;
  • Stadium boundary calls (e.g. fielder into stands, ball into stands);
  • Force play (except the fielder’s touching of second base on a double play);
  • Tag play (including steals and pickoffs);
  • Fair/foul in outfield only;
  • Trap play in outfield;
  • Batter hit by pitch;
  • Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out);
  • Touching a base (requires appeal);
  • Passing runners;
  • Record keeping (Ball-strike count to batter, outs, score, and substitutions)

MV Comments: Overall, I like the first set of rules. People are going to complain that the ‘neighborhood’ play at second during a double play isn’t reviewable. Robinson Cano abused this rule and I’m sure many other 2Bs and SS do it. I’m interested to see how quickly the verdict can be delivered from the Replay Command Center. Will it take them five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes? Which stall tactics will teams use to make sure their video specialist has enough time to review the play? I’m kind of bummed managers won’t have red flags like they do in the NFL. It’d be cool seeing that fly out of the dugout.

Seeing the ump’s interpretation of ‘timely manner’ will be interesting. For example, say a third out is incorrectly called (the outfielder trapped the line drive) and the teams switch. The video specialist reviews the play and tells the manager to challenge the call. While the video specialist is reviewing the play, the team switch and the pitcher begins warming up. Do all players stop what they’re doing when a play is challenged? Should the pitcher start throwing? It may be a little odd seeing the team switch again once the play is correctly changed. It may lead to a prolonged game, but the umps are getting the calls right. 

The Replay Command Center is a really smart thing. It’s something I think the NFL should adopt to help speed up the game. FOX has Mike Pereira that pretty much does this during telecasts. No reason why the NFL can’t have their own set of officials that do this in a central location.

This new system is a work in progress and no one is expecting perfection in Year 1. Baseball owes it to the teams and fans to get calls right. It may make games a little longer and it’ll be interesting to see which umps are more prone to replays following the 7th inning. Good job by the owners, umpire association, and players’ association to get this in place.