20 questions (and answers) on MLB's expanded replay rules

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20 questions (and answers) on MLB's expanded replay rules
January 16, 2014, 1:00 pm
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Bruce Bochy won't have a red hankie in his back pocket, but he will be able to challenge up to two plays a game starting next season. (AP)

Bob Melvin and the A's lost a game last season due to an incorrect call. (USATSI)

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SAN FRANCISCO – Major League Baseball on Thursday collected all the necessary rubber stamps to expand instant replay in time for the 2014 season.

At a meeting of major league owners in Paradise Valley, Ariz., the 30 clubs unanimously approved a detailed outline for the new system; the league also announced it had gained consent from the Players’ Association and the umpires union.

So what will be different when you take a seat at AT&T Park or the Coliseum this year? How will this work? Exactly how much time do you have to brave the beer line when the umpires go to the tape?

[RELATED: Clark: MLBPA won't allow PED offenders' contracts to be voided]

Here’s a quick rundown:

Q: What play types will be reviewable now?

A: Home runs, just as they were in the past. Now those reviewable calls also expand to include ground-rule doubles, along with fan interference and stadium boundary calls (e.g. a fielder into the stands, or a ball into the stands triggering a dead ball).

Force plays will be reviewable at every base, and yes, a tie still goes to the runner. But interestingly enough, don’t eliminate the old “neighborhood play” just yet. A fielder’s touching of second base on a double play will not be reviewable.

Tag plays will be reviewable at every base. This includes steals and pickoffs. (And home-plate collisions, in theory, even though they’re supposed to be illegal!)

[BAGGARLY: Home plate collisions to be outlawed next season]

Fair/foul plays will be reviewable, but in the outfield only. No more puffs of chalk dust! Trap plays also will be reviewable, also only in the outfield. (You’ll note that umpires still have the only say when it comes to line drives/choppers over first or third base.)

Was the batter really hit by the pitch? Forget looking for shoe polish. Just go to the video. These plays will be reviewable as well.

Umpires also will be able to review timing plays, such as whether a runner scores before a third out is recorded on a tag play. They’ll also be able to review whether a runner missed touching a base, although it requires an appeal. And although it’s kind of obvious, if umpires need to review whether one runner passed another on the basepaths, they’ll be able to go to the video to confirm that, too.

Finally, in case any umpires are really having a bad day, they’ll be able to review any record keeping – the ball-strike count, the number of outs, substitutions and yes, the score.

Q: One play remains unclear to me: If fielders appeal that a runner left early when tagging up on a fly out, can umpires use video to review it?

A: I'm glad you asked! I had the same question. I’d assume so, but that play isn’t specifically mentioned in MLB’s release.

Q: Will any other plays be reviewable?

A: No, that’s it. But just as before, umpires may huddle up on the field at any time to discuss any play.

Q: What about balls and strikes?

A: That’s still the sole responsibility of the plate umpire. But don’t worry. They’ll probably all be replaced by robots before 2030.

Q: How will reviews be initiated? Who decides to go to the tape?

A: That’s a complicated answer. There are two mechanisms, and one is the manager challenge.

Q: OK, how does the manager challenge work? Does Bruce Bochy get a cool red hankie to tuck in his back pocket?

A: Sadly, no. He just has to walk onto the field “in a timely manner” after the play in question and express to the crew chief his intent to challenge. Managers get at least one challenge, but no more than two, in a game. If a challenged call on the field is not overturned, the manager loses the right to challenge again. If the call on the field is overturned via replay, the manager retains the right to challenge one more time.

Q: What if a manager wants to challenge two calls in one play? Say there’s a trap in the outfield that’s called a catch and then a bang-bang play on the bases.

A: A brilliant thought. Thankfully, it occurred to them, too. When logging a challenge, a manager may request that the umpire review multiple portions of the same play, but he must specify exactly which portions of the play he is challenging. (And no, you don’t get charged for using up two challenges on one play.)

Q: So what happens if a manager has exhausted his challenges and there’s a reviewable, controversial call late in the game?

A: Well, here’s the simplest way to put it: After six innings, the crew chief has total discretion. A manager can still request a review in the seventh inning or later, but the crew chief is not obligated to go to the video. It’s kind of like how home runs were reviewed this past season. Managers could request that umpires review a home run call, but it’s up to the crew chief whether they actually did so. In fact, home run and boundary calls will remain reviewable under the procedures already in place. A manager won’t be able to challenge home run calls.

Q: OK, but won’t this slow the game down? How will they review these plays in an efficient way?

A: All 30 clubs will set up a “designated communication location near home plate.” The crew chief will signal to the official scorer that a play is being reviewed. Then the crew chief and at least one other umpire will be able to speak via headset to the Replay Command Center, who will determine whether to overturn the call “based on the continuing standard of whether there is clear and convincing evidence.” League officials do realize this will slow down the game. But they also believe it will cut out a lot of time that managers spend arguing and discussing plays. (What they don’t understand, unfortunately, is that watching Lou Piniella throw bases is a lot more fun than watching a guy on a headset shift his weight.)

Q: Who is reviewing the video? And are they hiring?

A: Major league umpires will be on staff as Replay Officials at the MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. (I envision the Replay Command Center looking like the bridge of the Death Star. Please send all job application materials to Admiral Veers.)

Q: Will the umpires in the Replay Command Center have access to anything besides the telecast video?

A: Yes, sandwiches. Just kidding. They’ll have access to video from most cameras in the ballpark in real time, including wide shots from behind home plate. They’ll get to see video beyond what viewers at home can access. And if a call is overturned, it’ll also be the sole discretion of the replay official to determine where to appropriately place runners.

Q: So who gets to wear the little black hood?

A: Nobody. The umpires at the ballpark will not have a monitor to review the play and they are not allowed to leave the field. The ruling of the replay official supersedes all.

Q: What if the replay official is an idiot?

A: I'm not sure Joe West will be able to find the power button. At any rate, on-field personnel may not argue with the decision of the replay official. I am guessing if Lou Piniella were still managing, he would find a way around this rule.

Q: Are they gonna have a dry run? How do they know this is going to work right away?

A: They did a lot of testing in the Arizona Fall League and implementation went smoother than expected. They’ll also use the system during some televised spring training games so managers and other on-field personnel can get a practical handle on how it’s going to work. 

Q: Okay, one more about the manager: How can he determine whether to challenge a call? Does he just trust his eyes?

A: No. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to challenge a call that’s obviously correct, right? So the league will allow coaches and/or managers to communicate via dugout phone with a video specialist in their clubhouse who has access to the same video that will be provided to replay officials. The club’s video specialist will be able to advise whether or not a challenge should be issued. Of course, since managers have to issue their challenge in a timely fashion, those video coordinators had better be quick about it.

Q: I see the potential for some shenanigans.

A: Well, the league insists that both home and visiting clubs will have the same technology in each dugout and clubhouse to ensure equal access to video.

Q: Will the Rockies put theirs in a humidor?

A: You're a riot.

Q: I can make this easier. Just give managers an iPad hooked up with the MLB Extra Innings package. Can they have one of those? They could play Candy Crush whenever Guillermo Moscoso is pitching, too.

A: Nice thought. No, they can’t. But you can. And if you’re sitting just above the dugout, and feel like being helpful, feel free!

Q: Last question. I hate hate hate hate when I’m at the ballpark and they refuse to show a replay of a controversial call. PRAVDA! So what about me, the fan who pays my hard-earned money? Why should I be the only one in the dark?

A: You won’t be. Clubs now have the right to show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed. (In Russia you get dot-matrix.)

Q: Great. Now, what can they do about this epidemic of dull free-throw shooting that the NBA has become?

A: One problem at a time, sparky.