Torre pleased with progress of replay testing
Three of seven challenged calls overturned on second trial at Arizona Fall League
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Major League Baseball's chief scientist stepped into the replay expansion laboratory Wednesday night, and Joe Torre liked what he saw.
"It looked like it went off smoothly," said Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, of the first two trial games to test the process and technology of the proposed replay system, which, if approved, will be run from MLB Advanced Media's replay operations center in New York. "The Commissioner [Bud Selig] has wanted this for a couple of years, but we certainly didn't want to go knee-jerk on it.
"We wanted to make sure to do something that wasn't going to affect the rhythm of the game. [Tuesday] night looked good," Torre said of expanded replay's debut game.
Wednesday night's encore game, between the visiting Salt River Rafters and the Scottsdale Scorpions, looked more complex. Though all four calls challenged in the Tuesday game were upheld, the first two on Wednesday -- and three of seven total -- were overturned upon review.
Kyle Kubitza also emerged as a replay magnet. The Scottsdale third baseman, an Atlanta prospect, was involved in four of the challenged plays.
Replay's value as a tool was vividly demonstrated in the bottom of the fifth of the Scorpions' 7-4 Arizona Fall League victory at Scottsdale Stadium.
With men on first and second, Scottsdale's Alen Hanson drilled a ball to left-center on which center fielder Kenny Wilson made a fabulous diving catch. As the runners put on the brakes and reversed course, Wilson rolled over and sprang up for a throw -- but dropped the ball on the exchange into his bare hand.
A challenge was issued -- not by the hitter's manager but by Salt River skipper Mike Shildt. He contended that Kubitza, who was running from second and had rounded third, did not retouch the third-base bag on his way back to second. With the base umpires' eyes on the outfield, plate ump Sean Barber was too far away with the wrong angle for a proper view.
Enter the replay official: Kubitza was called out for an inning-ending double play.
A situation in the bottom of the second also introduced a wrinkle that could validate the biggest concern about replays: Slowing the pace of games. When Kubitza led off with a triple, it triggered two challenges by Shildt -- one at a time.
Shildt challenged third-base umpire Trip Gibson's call that Kubitza beat the tag, then returned to his third-base dugout to await the verdict. When that came upholding the call, Shildt came back out to challenge that Kubitza had missed second base on his way to third. That, too, was upheld.
You can do that. In fact, you have to do that, since replay rules permit challenging only one aspect of a play at a time. In a good-old fashioned argument, the manager does not have to make two separate visits to make points; it's all-you-can-beef.
So, did someone say "Work in progress?"
"What we're doing here is very important," Torre said. "It gives you some sense of how it's going to work. We are forcing the issue here, because we want to look at how the technology works. There's still a lot of housekeeping we've got to do. Hopefully, in the next month or so, we'll have it all."
The way the issue is being forced in the AFL lab is by not limiting the number of challenges. Everything but balls and strikes is fair game here. By contrast, in the Show, reviewable plays will be limited and clearly defined.
"We will have a list of plays that will not be reviewable -- like stuff that affects the placement of runners," said Torre, acknowledging MLB umpires had a big voice in coming up with that list. "They have a great deal of input. It's their livelihood."
Torre revealed that the previously reported quota of challenges -- one within the first six innings, two thereafter -- is not a sure thing. MLB may want to protect managers against their own impetuousness.
"If a manager loses his challenges," Torre said, "we don't want a game to be decided on a play that can't be challenged."
It sounds like, then, that consideration is being given to having any questionable play automatically reviewed after a defined point late in a game -- as the National Football League does in the final two minutes of each half.
That would be the only thing baseball's replay system could possibly have in common with football or with the other sport that has used liberal replays for years, basketball.
"Baseball is not like other sports. Basketball and football have boundaries, they're limited in what can happen to affect a game," Torre said. "We don't really have that. A lot of fans think, 'What's so tough about this? You look at a picture and you change a call.' But there are so many different things that can happen, especially in the course of a season. There's a lot of aspects we have to be aware of and figure out how to handle it.
"We always have people waking up in the morning and thinking, 'What happens if this happens?'"
Torre is confident they'll get it right -- and get the public's approval.
"I think this will satisfy the public that we're addressing the wishes of those who think replay should be part of our game," Torre said. "We can't ignore the technology that's out there."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.