This is my Wednesday column about instant replay in baseball. WARNING: This is not a football column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.
OAKLAND – Wednesday afternoon during game 1 of the A’s doubleheader against Cleveland, Indians third-baseman Carlos Santana threw out A’s catcher Derek Norris at home plate. Norris slid and got tagged out. That’s what the umpire ruled. Bang-bang play.
A’s manager Bob Melvin jumped out of the dugout. He thought Norris was safe. According to baseball’s tradition, this was Melvin’s cue to raise hell. Run right over to the home-plate umpire, Mark Wegner, and scream in his face. Then kick dirt onto his shoes. Continue screaming at him as he screams back, manager and umpire nose-to-nose, heads bouncing left and right, spit flying out of their mouths and landing on each others’ red mugs. That’s what Billy Martin and Lou Piniella used to do. That was the tradition. And then the umpire ejected the manager, ending baseball’s uncivil spectacle.
Say goodbye to that spectacle, for better or worse. This is what modern baseball looks like:
After popping out of the dugout, Melvin casually strolled to home plate. No anger. No argument. There was nothing to argue about. Melvin said to Wegner, “I’d like to challenge that,” and Wegner said, “OK.” Wegner turned to the crew chief, Mike Winters, who was standing by second base, and waved to him. That was it.
Major League Baseball added a replay system this season, if you haven’t heard. Each manager can “challenge” one call per game.
Football invades baseball.
“They’re trying to get egregious calls correct,” Indians manager Terry Francona explained before the game outside the visitor’s locker room.
Managers have been advised not to challenge bang-bang plays because they’re hard to verify, difficult to overturn. Melvin used his challenge, anyway. He walked back to the A’s dugout, and the two umpires stood in the visitor’s on-deck circle wearing headphones, listening to the official reviewers in New York decide whether or not to overturn the call. This took four minutes and 37 seconds.
During this time, the Indians’ outfielders met in center field and shot the breeze. The infielders met behind second base and did the same. Josh Donaldson was on second base at the time, so he joined their conversation. Spectators at their own baseball game.
The Indians’ starting pitcher, Corey Kluber, threw a few practice pitches to stay warm – eight or so. But he didn’t want to tire himself out, so he stopped throwing. The delay dragged on. He started stretching on the mound – kneeling, then squatting. Four minutes and 37 seconds is a long time for a pitcher to stand around looking confused. The delay dragged on. The catcher walked over to Kluber, killing time. It was only the second inning, and Kluber already had given up two runs. He was struggling. A mid-inning delay was the last thing he needed.
“Four-and-a-half minutes, that’s way too long,” A’s color announcer Vince Cotroneo said on the radio. “That will frustrate the players on the field.”
Finally, the umpires took off their headphones. New York had decided. Melvin’s challenge had failed.
Winters, the crew chief, jogged over to Melvin and explained the ruling. “There was no evidence that would suggest an overturn,” Winters said. Melvin walked back to his dugout.
Flash back to pregame in the A’s dugout. Melvin sat on the bench and eagerly answered questions about the new replay system. “I am not confident at all that I know everything about (it),” he said. “I think that’s going to be a work in progress. You do the best you can with what you feel like you understand the rules are, even if it’s going out to the umpire and asking, ‘What are my options here?’”
Francona doesn’t know all of the rules yet, either. “I think everybody is learning,” he said before the game. “If you happen to make a mistake, an umpire is going to correct you. It’s not the end of the world. If you go out there and say something wrong, the umpires are instructed not to jump down your throat. They’re instructed to walk you through and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t really challengeable.’”
Adversaries no longer. Managers and umpires working together. What a concept. They’re trying to get this new replay system right. And as they get more experience with it, reviews probably won’t take so long.
But managers and umpires will continue to keep their noses to themselves, and their faces won’t get so red and they will speak politely to each other.
Weird or good? You make the call. But don’t take four and a half minutes.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.