Preserving game's human element essential
Mulling replay, playoff expansion, MLB should tread carefully
Major League owners and general managers will convene next week in Milwaukee, and aside from figuring out how to spend their millions on free agents -- and laying groundwork for trades -- two major issues will be in the air: expanded video replay and a proposed addition of two Wild Card teams to the playoffs.
My advice to those who run baseball: Go slowly on both.
It's unlikely that decisions will be reached on either, but the items will be debated officially and unofficially at the Pfister Hotel, especially by the GMs and Commissioner Bud Selig's Special Committee for On-Field Matters.
First, additional video replay.
Every time an umpire misses a crucial call, there's a firestorm of demand for more instant replay.
In Game 3 of the just-completed World Series, first-base umpire Ron Kulpa called the Cardinals' Matt Holiday safe during a tense fourth inning, and replays immediately showed he was out.
As expected, critics openly asked why, with the technology available, MLB doesn't take advantage of it to correct such injustices.
St. Louis went on to win the game, 16-7 -- on the strength of Albert Pujols' record-tying three-homer performance -- but the Rangers trailed by only a run when Kulpa made his call.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said the blown call didn't cost Texas the game, but for the Rangers, the game unraveled after that. St. Louis scored 13 runs from the fourth through the seventh innings.
As important as that missed call was, with the significance of it erupting on national television, I'd hate to see MLB add replay for calls at the bases. It would just slow the flow of the game too much to have routine bang-bang plays reviewed.
The pace of the game is so important. Anything that disrupts that should be avoided. Replay, of course, is now used only to check home runs. Umpires can check to see if a home run is really a home run -- fair or foul, over the fence or not, etc.
The human element is so important to baseball. I'd hate to think replay would be used for balls and strikes, stolen bases or calls at the bases.
Selig said: "We are going to enlarge replay a bit. We've made that decision, and we'll add a couple of things to it. ... We'll look at all of this during the offseason."
Selig added that he will refuse to do anything that disturbs the pace and flow of the game.
The Commissioner has hinted that maybe the only change will be on fair/foul calls down the lines and possibly determining if a ball is trapped or caught.
MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre, who's been a member of Selig's on-field committee since he was a manager, said: "I am old-school, but I'm not ignoring the new technology that's available to us. We're going to do everything we can to make the game better."
Torre, thank goodness, is totally opposed to the wholesale use of replay. He speaks often, like Selig, about the pace and flow of a baseball game. Stopping it for replay interrupts that, and it changes one of the elements that makes baseball so special and separates it from other sports.
So, as the GMs and owners kick around the replay subject next week, they should not be in a rush. Changes, even experiments like the designated hitter, most always become permanent.
They should take the same approach in discussing the addition of two Wild Cards to the postseason format, i.e. another round of playoffs.
Frankly, I like the three-round postseason the way it is -- one Wild Card team from each league.
Selig seems determined to increase the total of postseason teams to 10 but believes this will not happen until at least 2013.
That's good because it will give the powers that be -- MLB management and the MLB Players Association -- ample time to concoct the best format.
Negotiations are in their 11th hour for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement to replace the current contract, which expires on Dec. 11.
Adding another round of playoffs may be linked to the possibility of realignment. There has been speculation the Houston Astros may be moved to the American League West, which would create two 15-team leagues. Currently, the Astros are in the six-team National League Central, which has caused an imbalance between the NL and AL.
Seldom has there been such a fascinating final month of the regular season as we witnessed in September. Those unbelievable races to the wire elevated baseball to an ever-higher level.
But consider this: Had two additional Wild Cards been in play, September would have lacked its historic drama.
If the two extra Wild Cards were determined by the third-best record in each league, both Boston and Atlanta, despite their colossal collapses, would have made the postseason. That would have diluted the down-to-the-wire rallies made by Tampa Bay and St. Louis, not to mention the incredible final day of the regular season.
Selig likes the idea of having 10 teams in the postseason but agrees that the proposed new format would have removed much of the excitement from the end of 2011.
The NFL advances 12 of 32 teams to its postseason, while the NBA and NHL each send 16 of 30.
Baseball must not drag its feet when it considers change, and under Selig's leadership, it certainly hasn't. But when it comes to instant replay and altering the postseason, restraint might be the best path.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.