Written by Joseph Hubbs. Media by Steven Potter.
Although a lot of regions in America are still trying to figure out why it is so cold, training camps in sunny Florida and Arizona are opened up, and Major League ball players are preparing for opening day. As Die hard baseball fans all hop on the Ozzie Smith bandwagon to make opening day a national holiday, smaller fans grow skeptical over all of the new changes implemented in the sport this offseason. If last year’s “realignment,” placing the Astros into the American League and causing year round interleague was not enough, MLB commissioner, Bud Selig found a way to get the pot stirring even more with a few new rules.
Baseball has been toying with the idea of instant replay for a while now, since 2008. Originally, replay was only allowed on an umpire’s discretion to determine a controversial homerun or foul ball call. A manager could not ask for a replay, and the whole umpiring crew had to agree upon looking into things in the booth. Because these instances happen infrequently no one really complained about the use of video to these calls right. However, during the offseason, Bud Selig and the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association) decided to give extended replay a try. Much like an NFL coach, MLB managers now have the right to challenge one call in a contest. If the challenge is successful then they will hang on to their challenge and own one more. If it fails, then they have no more challenges the rest of the game until after the seventh inning when the umpire crew chief reserves the right to review any challengeable play. According to mlb.com every play is challengeable other balls and strikes calls and double play calls pertaining to a fielder stepping on second base.
The most unusual part about this new system is that all replays will be reviewed in the Replay Command Center in New York. On field umpires will not be able to actually watch the replay themselves. Instead, on a review they will put on a headset connected to the replay center with which they can communicate with the replay official in New York to discuss the play. The replay official in New York will have the final say and the on field umpires will simply invoke the decision. As odd as this seems, it could be an effective way for an umpire not involved in the heat of the game to make a clear decision based on the visual evidence. At first glance of the new rule this is a little painful to nostalgic baseball fans who value the tradition of human error. No doubt the same fans swear at the T.V. when their home player is called out at first base when he is clearly safe, but they will claim that it is simply part of the game. There is also the undying cry that baseball is slow enough without replay, and the constant stoppage in play will turn a three hour game into a five hour game. All complaints are duly noted; however like in all aspects of life if there is a way to get things right, then it should be done.
A change a little less drastic, but still concerning to long time baseball fans is the new home plate collision rule. At the beginning of the 2011 season, Giants All Star catcher, Buster Posey suffered a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle after a home plate collision with Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins. The prolific hitter would miss the rest of the season and absence of baseball’s top hitting catcher sparked major debates across baseball media. Again, nostalgic fans claimed it was just a part of the game, but concerned fans noted that baseball is not a contact sport, and the collisions were becoming too dangerous to be considered relative to the game. Posey came back the next season and won the National League MVP, so it was not like the injury was career threatening, but analysts imposed that to avoid another such injury, a rule should be created to protect catchers. MLB and the MLBPA have finally agreed to an experimental rule this offseason that should alleviate the devastation of home plate collisions. According to mlb.com, under rule 7.13, “A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher.” Therefore, if the runner lowers his shoulders, extends his arms out, or turns his elbows to initiate contact with the catcher, the umpire will rule him out at the plate. Vice versa, catchers will no longer be allowed to block the plate without possession of the baseball. If the umpire feels that the catcher was illegally blocking the plate, he can automatically call the runner safe. The one exception to this rule is if for some reason the catcher could not catch the throw without moving into the runner’s path. If the umpire feels this is the case he does not have to call the violation.
As a new rule, this call is obviously going to be unusual to veteran umpires, and the judgment may be off for a while. Thankfully our other new friend in instant replay will allow umpires to go to the booth and have this call reviewed to make sure they got everything correct. Now that our catchers are protected, and umpires have the “potential” to get every call right, everyone in baseball should be happy. If for some reason you are upset with the new rules, let me know why in the comments. In the meantime enjoy the opening games and get ready for another exhilarating season of Major League Baseball.