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Stop complaining about MLB's new replay system: It's working

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
Bud Selig calls replay start 'remarkable'
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Second base umpire Adrian Johnson, left, and third base umpire Larry Vanover, center, listen to an instant replay call during the first inning of a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Enough already. We get it. Instant replay sucks. Managers are saying it. Ballplayers. Ex-ballplayers. Writers. The guy at the end of the bar. It's the sort of thing doctors pick up on to use as small talk. Bashing replay is cool. For those aboard the bandwagon, just know this: You are, and will be, on the wrong side of history.

Not only does replay work theoretically, it is working in practice, despite the protestations otherwise. Like so many new ideas in baseball – the wild card, interleague play and other fundamental changes – the initial backlash is far greater than the actual problems. Most of the grievances are biased bellyaching, Luddism or downright ignorance, all three of which continue to push a narrative that's the least-surprising thing to happen this season.

Of course people were going to complain about replay, and not just because controversy resonates and the Internet loves little more than a condemnation ceremony. The technology is fallible. Errors would be made. Calls missed. The league didn't expect perfection. On the contrary, the rollout of replay, with all of the potential issues involved, has gone smoother than expected.

Just look at the biggest screw-up so far, the one that earned Boston manager John Farrell a fine for criticizing the integrity of replay. It was a blown call, yes, but to understand why the execution of that replay was flawed – and not replay itself – necessitates important details.

Inside the New York replay room, the on-site umpire heard from the on-field ump: The Red Sox were challenging the safe-out call at second base. Ideally, and going forward, managers and umpires will know that in similar instances, it is best to be specific – to say, in this case, the Red Sox believed the Yankees baserunner had lifted his foot off the base and was tagged out. He had. The safe call was wrong. And yet it was confirmed.

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Red Sox manager John Farrell was ejected for arguing an overturned call. (AP)

Because replay remains in its infancy and the subject of attacks, the pressure inside the room is immense. New umpires rotate in and out, getting used to the technology, the different job duties. And the burden of speed, in this case, prompted the umpire to scroll through replays quickly, not notice that Dean Anna's foot had indeed left the bag well after the play seemed over and stick with the call on the field.

Had this happened in a Royals-Astros game, surely the worst blown call of the year, the backlash would have been minuscule. Yankees-Red Sox finally gave all the anti-replay zealots a bully pulpit on which they could be heard, and that the call somehow was extrapolated into the failures of the replay system writ large was an unfortunate, if expected, consequence of the Anna call.

All of these points are not excuses as much as realities. Anybody who thought the transition to replay would be smooth was deluded. And anybody who considered replay fail-safe never spent time talking with people in the NFL, who say they understand replay will work about 95 percent of the time, and hopefully the 5 percent it doesn't isn't during the Super Bowl.

Most of these kinks will remedy themselves, because when you have a group of professionals dedicated to making it work – and MLB and the umpires remain united on replay – they soldier through the early bumps and streamline the process properly.

None of this defense is to claim replay free of issues. They do exist, only not in the individual blown calls like with Anna, which are outnumbered egregiously by the wrongs replay has righted, going on 30 now in just two weeks. No, these are the rules that keep cropping up and make no sense.

Like the transfer rule, which now says a catch is a catch only if the ball is transferred cleanly from glove hand to throwing hand. This interpretation of a broadly worded rule came directly from the umpires, who hoped it would allow them to better use replay. It has become a joke and a threshold baseball should immediately rescind before the first left fielder, as FanGraphs' Dave Cameron suggested, catches a ball with runners on first and second, runs a few steps, intentionally drops the transfer and turns a 7-5-4 double play.

The league should, and will, revisit the manager-challenge system after the season, seeing as so many managers consider getting calls right such a burden, poor guys. The awkwardness of managers walking out to the umpire and standing with their eyes on the dugout, waiting for the yay or nay signal from their video team, is palpable. And yet from the time the umpire calls for replay to the finish, the average time thus far is 1 minute, 58 seconds, and if the league wants to salvage its game pace – and it desperately does – it must understand replay center-initiated challenges or those of an on-site replay umpire would be far more numerous and take excessive amounts of time.

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MLB commissioner Bud Selig is happy with how the replay system is working. (AP)

Replay, remember, grew out of a long, loud, concerted effort from fans to right a wrong. The very last thing the sport needs is a group of people looking to do the same with replay and give Bud Selig, he of great concern about public opinion, any reason to step away from his public comments Tuesday in which he assigned replay a typically embellished adjective: "Remarkable."

Pieces of it are. Handling four replays at a time, all within a seven-minute window over the weekend, with many of the regular umpires helping John Hirschbeck grieve the loss of a child – that was impressive. And slowing things down to one frame, 1/60th of a second, to gauge whether the call was right – that is cool.

Remarkable may yet come when baseball wrangles its new toy and the machine starts to run smoothly. It's there for the most part, and what happened with the Yankees and Red Sox will happen again, because it's replay, and it's imperfect. The technology could fail. The replay-umpire judgment – and there remains judgment even in this new gig – could do the same.

And there will be bitching and bellyaching and all the typical reactions for those particularly aggrieved. Which is all well and good. For now, it's even cool. Soon enough, though, it's going to look like what it is: petty. Because replay works. And it's only going to get better.

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