Replay system working as desired in Spring Training
Availability of more angles, HD video expected to raise effectiveness in regular season
Major League Baseball has been testing its new expanded instant-replay system in Spring Training for 10 days now, and while there have been a few expected glitches, Braves president John Schuerholz, who along with former big league managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa formed the committee that devised the framework of the system, couldn't be happier with what he's seen so far.
"I'm very, very satisfied," Schuerholz said.
Schuerholz based his assessment on three factors. The first is that the whole point of testing is to discover the bugs and fix them. Besides, MLB never pretended it would be perfect at the outset.
"As we announced when we rolled this out, it's a three-year program," Schuerholz said. "We expect each and every year to find things that work well and enhance them, as well as things that may be flawed a bit or not as tight as we want and fix them along the way. And by the end of our third year, I think we will have virtually assured ourselves that games will turn on who plays the better game, not who gets the right call or the wrong call that affects the outcome."
The second factor is that, out of necessity, the system being used in Spring Training is rudimentary compared to what will be used during the regular season.
For Grapefruit and Cactus League games, the replay officials sit in a television truck outside the ballparks and get the best looks they can at the replays that are provided by a limited number of cameras. During the regular season, the replay umpires will rotate through MLB Advanced Media's offices in New York and will be provided with far more tools, all in high definition.
"Everyone should be aware of that," Schuerholz said. "We're using the feeds that come in from the Spring Training games. But during the regular season, we'll have direct connectivity to the [MLBAM] office and all the many, many views they'll have up there and the HD and the stop-action and all that. The different angles. We don't have that here.
"We just didn't have the time or quite honestly the money budgeted to put our full system into place [for Spring Training]. But this gives everybody a chance to get a feel for it, to get comfortable with it, reaffirm their comfort and introduce it to the fans on a little bit of a limited look. It will be more sophisticated and more quickly done when we get to the regular season."
The first test game was between the Blue Jays and Twins at Hammond Stadium on March 3. Toronto manager John Gibbons challenged a call and the umpires requested the review of another, but neither was changed because the replays were deemed to be inconclusive. Afterward, umpire Fieldin Culbreth spoke about the differences he foresees when the regular season begins.
"The difference between the [quality of the] broadcast feed of what we have now versus the broadcast feed of what we'll have during the regular season is going to be tenfold," Culbreth said. "And on top of that is the number of angles. We only had basically three angles here, which is what it is.
"I think once we have nine or 10 angles, and when we have quality feeds, I think you'll see that time really tighten up because everything hopefully will be so much quicker that we can make that determination clearer."
Finally, Schuerholz sees a benefit to managers getting an opportunity to practice which plays they'll challenge and fine-tune their communication process between the employee monitoring the video and the coach who will be responsible for alerting the manager whether or not he should ask for a review.
"I think most clubs are probably encouraging their guys to err on the side of commission instead of omission just to get a sense of how it flows, and also to get the umpires involved in that kind of decision-making process and using instant replay," Schuerholz said. "When we wrote the protocol, we allowed direct communication from the video man to the dugout so there won't have to be any trickery involved. Everybody will have the same opportunity to have a direct communication with the bench coach to say, 'Hey, I think the umpire missed that call. You might want to challenge it.'"
Schuerholz traveled around Florida and Arizona with Torre and La Russa conducting seminars and answering questions about expanded replay. The reaction to those sessions and the way the umpires have embraced change have also made him bullish about the historic implementation that's taking place.
"When we've had these training sessions at various locations, the managers and the general managers and bench coaches have all come out with great, great praise for what they heard and the explanations that were given to them and how much more comfortable they felt going into even Spring Training games where it will be utilized," Schuerholz said.
"The umpires have become very collaborative, with a partnership spirit. They understand the value of instant replay, for the integrity of the game, No. 1; getting the call right, No. 2. And for all of us representing the game, umpires and management alike, saying, 'We want these games to be called accurately and have no game lost because of a call incorrectly made.'
"I feel real good about this."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.