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What Were They Thinking?!

What Were They Thinking?!: Talkin’ Offense and Instant Replay…

Last night was my first turn in the monthly rotation of the UCB Radio Hour with Jon Doble. For myself, it was an excellent experience. I can’t say the same for Jon or our listeners…but you’re all stuck with me now! In all seriousness though, whenever I appear on the show myself, the What Were They Thinking?! posts are typically a bit different – it’s kind of hard to expand on your own thoughts the day after. But I did want to touch on at least a couple topics from last night and the game yesterday. So…lets get into it!

(NOTE: For those that didn’t get to listen last night, CLICK HERE.)

The offense finally woke up…and lo’ and behold, Carpenter and Beltran were right in the middle of things. On Tuesday I wrote a Bird Watching post that focused on the slumps Beltran and Carpenter have fallen into after Berkman was disabled (if you haven’t read it, CLICK HERE). The basic point was that the two most heavily impacted hitters in the lineup as a result of Berkman’s DL stint were the two hitters whose lack of production most clearly stood out in a sputtering offense. Beltran was impacted by being removed from the two hole and plugged into the clean-up spot vacated by Berkman. Carpenter, on the other hand, has bounced around the hitting order…but he is the hitter who directly replaced Berkman in the field at 1B. Both had been all but invisible in the offense since Berkman dropped off the roster. But yesterday…when the Cardinals scored five runs and pulled out a victory in Wrigley…it should be noted that Carpenter – hitting in the two hole – stroked a single to right field to drive in Descalso in the third with two outs. Then – in the sixth inning – Beltran doubled off the left field wall to score Rafael Furcal with two outs. A batter later, Freese homered to score himself and Beltran. Finally – in the eighth inning – the Cardinals scored their fifth and final run when Beltran walked with two outs, stole second base, and scored on David Freese’s hit a batter later. The common theme – other than the fact that Carpenter and Beltran were involved in all of the Cardinals’ scoring – was on-base and RBI production with two outs and either Carpenter or Beltran at the plate. If Carpenter doesn’t produce in the third, the inning is over and the team doesn’t score. If Beltran doesn’t produce a hit or walk in the sixth or eighth (and steals 2B in the eighth), the inning ends and David Freese never gets the opportunity to drive in a run with a man on base. So…once again…the two hitters directly impacted by Berkman’s absence played a critical role in this offense’s ability to score and win games.

About Instant Replay… I still can’t make myself fully support the implementation of instant replay in baseball. I have too much invested in the story-like, human-element format of such a historic game to support a further shift to a technology driven sport. Having said that…it seems to me that the technology exists right now to develop and implement instant replay in a smooth, timely, and logical way. Below, I’ve listed just a few thoughts on what instant replay could/should look like in the near future:

1. Personal tablet computer viewers for each umpire. If Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble can develop and implement hand-held inventory computers for their associates to carry around, Major League Baseball can certainly take iPad technology – talk about a marketable partnership! – and turn it into a small, reliable, light-weight and custom-designed device that each umpire can keep in a simple pouch on his hip for viewing instant replay video files. Then, it’s simply a matter of deciding whether a replay booth is going to be set up at each stadium, or is MLB going to establish a central replay booth in New York. MLB umpiring officials would then sit in the booth and be tasked with capturing, clipping, and sending instant replay video files directly to the video queue of the umpiring crew assigned to the game. In half the time it takes a manager and umpire to argue about a call, the same umpire can pull out his tablet, select the file, and watch it…and even show it to the manager! Done.

2. Only plays with a clear beginning and ending – and no impact on another play/player on the field – would be eligible for review. Baseball has so many plays that influence a subsequent play on the field that defining which plays would actually be eligible for review could be a nightmare. Think of it this way: 1 out. 1 run game. Man on first and second. Hitter at the plate hits a grounder in the hole between SS and 3B. The SS fields the ball, spins, throws to second – the runner is called out. The second baseman turns and fires a throw to 1B. At the same moment the runner is called out on a close play at 1B to end the inning, the runner who started the at-bat at 2B is flying around 3B and heading for home. His thinking…”they gotta’ make a play to get me…this is our best shot to tie the game because the pitcher’s due up next.” In the meantime, the umpire called the runner at first out, so the defense is leaving the field instead of throwing to the plate. The man rounding third trots home, touches the plate…and suddenly the umpire’s replay “beeper” goes off. The replay booth has decided to review the call at 1B. The umpire reviews it, realizes the runner is safe, overturns the call, and brings the defense back out on the field. What do you do with the runner who crossed the plate? If you send him back to third, the offensive team is going to flip out claiming their guy had a chance to score. If you let him score, the defensive manager is going to argue ’til he’s blue in the face that his first baseman would have thrown home if not for the out call at 1B. And I could come up with a hundred scenarios just like that. To implement instant replay, MLB will have to come up with workable, strict guidelines about what can and cannot be reviewed. And that’s not that easy in baseball.

3. Managers cannot be allowed to initiate reviews. In football, if a coach challenges a play and loses, it costs him a timeout. But in baseball, if a manager challenges a play in order to give his pitcher more time to warm up and then loses the challenge…how do you penalize him? There is no clock, so you can’t take something like a time out away. To penalize a team in a way that takes away/gives an out – or prevents a manager from making a pitching change he wants to make – would be blasphemy! So you’re likely left with no way to prevent a manager from abusing the challenge process. And if you can’t do that, you can’t give them the right to challenge a play. Of course, leaving the decision up to an umpire still allows too much “human element” in the game. Think about all of the umpires with egos and attitudes in the game right now. Is it really a stretch to imagine one of those umpires refusing to initiate a play review just because he’s upset with what a manager said to him? And that leaves the replay booth. Instant replay reviews would have to be initiated by an independent replay official in a booth off the field. To do that, umpires would have to have a foolproof alert system – an ear piece, a big red light on the jumbo tron for the home plate umpire to see, etc. – otherwise you risk throwing a pitch before the umpire realizes a replay has been called for…in a sport that has spent the last 25 years trying to speed up the game and reduce the time between pitches and hitters.


That’ll do it today. The Cardinals enjoy an off day today, but they return to Busch Stadium to take on the Brewers on Friday. And don’t forget to check back here this evening to find out how you can win a free 8-Disc DVD collection of the 2011 World Series games! We’ll be giving away a set to one lucky winner next week…but you can enter as soon as the post hits the site. So…uh…come back.



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