Torre: Replay progressing; collisions an issue
Details of expanded system still developing, but test run in AFL encouraging
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Expanded instant replay remains on track to be implemented in time for the 2014 season even though several details remain to be ironed out, Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, said on Tuesday. There is also growing support for a rules change regarding home-plate collisions.
Torre made the comments on the second day of the annual General Managers Meetings at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes. He was on the committee -- along with Braves president John Schuerholz and former big league manager Tony La Russa -- that was formed to suggest changes to the replay system. Torre also sits on the Rules Committee, which will have informal discussions on Wednesday before meeting again at the Winter Meetings next month.
Torre said he didn't know whether there will be a vote on instant replay during the Owners Meetings, which will be held on Wednesday and Thursday at the same hotel, or whether that will come when the owners next get together in Phoenix in January.
"It's possible," Torre said. "We're about as far along with the knowledge we have as we can go. There are still certain things we have to decide on -- the triggering mechanisms, things like that. Stuff that really doesn't affect what we're going to do; just how we're going to do it. But we have the technology where we feel we can do it quickly.
The replay system was tested last week in Arizona Fall League games, and Torre termed the results "very promising."
Under the current system, replay is used only for boundary calls involving home runs. The new plan will allow an appeal of most disputed plays. A review will be initiated when a manager informs an umpire that he wants to challenge a play. Each manager will be allowed one challenge in the first six innings and two more from the seventh through the end of the game.
If he wins his appeal, a manager retains the challenge. The challenge from the first six innings does not carry over, and managers cannot argue reviewable calls. If a manager enters the field to argue, he must challenge.
Before changes can be made, both the Major League Baseball Players Association and the World Umpires Association must sign off on the plan. Torre said there have been ongoing negotiations with both groups.
"We expect to be all on the same page by the time we need to have it -- the first of the year or in January at some point," Torre said. "We feel like we're far enough along with the unions that we're pretty confident. I think right now, we feel like it's not going to be an issue."
No decision has been made regarding how many umpires will be stationed at MLB Advanced Media's New York office to review the video and make the final call on disputed plays, but Torre said this system is preferable to adding a fifth umpire on site to create a rotation where one could review plays in the pressbox each game.
"The one thing I've learned ... is that you really need practice looking at the video, and I think that's something we're all aware of," Torre said. "The umpires are really going to have to be educated on this."
It also remains to be seen how extensively the system will be employed during Spring Training and what sort of time limit, if any, will exist be before a play can be challenged.
The first calls for changing the rules regarding home-plate collisions came from Giants manager Bruce Bochy after San Francisco catcher Buster Posey suffered a broken left ankle in a home plate collision on May 25, 2011. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose playing career was cut short by a series of concussions, has also called for revisions.
That sentiment is starting to gain traction. Torre said it's not impossible that new rules protecting both catchers and baserunners could be in place for next season, but he admitted that at this point, the plan has few particulars. Torre will meet with Bochy and Matheny at the Winter Meetings -- set for Dec. 9-12 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. -- and will also solicit opinions from any other baseball people who have ideas to offer.
"This is really an open forum," Torre said. "Anybody who has an opinion on this in baseball, we want to listen, because if there is something that can be done, the more opinions, the better. We spent a lot of time on it [Tuesday]. We're talking about the catcher being in danger and the baserunner being in danger, for that matter. It's something that was discussed very seriously. We left it where, between now and the Winter Meetings, [we can] just put something down on paper that we can look at and make a decision.
"There are a lot of layers to go through, but I think there are a lot of people who are concerned, obviously, with the health of the catchers and, as I said, baserunners. So I think there's a possibility it could happen [by 2014]."
Like many issues, this becomes more complex the closer it's studied. For example, there's a rule in college baseball forcing baserunners to slide into home plate instead of barreling in headfirst in an attempt to jar the ball loose. That may not be the answer, Torre suggested.
"In being a catcher, if you have the ball early enough, you don't have a collision because that runner has to commit himself far earlier than you have to commit yourself," Torre said. "To me, [in the case of] a catcher with the ball in plenty of time, can you say he has to slide? But it's a little tough to do that based on the fact that the runner makes up his mind before, and then you're trying to stop yourself from sliding or running into him and you wind up hurting yourself.
"Then somebody also threw out there, 'What happens when the pitcher has to go cover home plate with a passed ball or a wild pitch?' He could be in danger, too, because you could definitely slide in and hurt somebody."
Despite the difficulties, Torre made it clear that something will have to be done.
"When it gets to the Rules Committee, I think you're going to have very understanding people there -- understanding and feeling that something has to be done," Torre said. "Because the players are bigger, stronger, faster [than in the past]. It's like in other sports. They've made adjustments in rules in other sports for that reason: to protect people. We have a great game, and we want to keep the players on the field."
One rule that's unlikely to change is obstruction, even though it received a lot of attention when Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks was called for obstructing Cardinals baserunner Allen Craig during Game 3 of last month's World Series, allowing the winning run to score in the bottom of the ninth.
"We'll have a conversation, but I really don't see anything," Torre said. "Nobody wants a game to end like that -- I don't think it's any secret -- but the fact of the matter is, when you think about putting that rule in, it was basically meant for the steal of second base with the infielder falling on the guy without the ball, and he can't get up and move on to the next base. And the umpires admitted -- and we had some pretty experienced umpires -- that they had never seen it at third base. I don't know what kind of changes you'd make in that situation."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.