At the owners' meetings in Orlando yesterday, MLB's 30 owners unanimously approved funding for an extensive instant replay system to be implemented for 2014. From a practical standpoint, this means we now have our first official description of what the system will look like.
- Managers will be able to challenge plays, similar to the NFL. But contrary to early reports that each team would receive three challenges per game, the plan approved would give them either one or two, with a successful appeal allowing them to keep their challenge.
- Replays will be handled by a central control room at MLB Advanced Media's headquarters in New York. COO Rob Manfred said the replay officials will be former or current umpires, or at least "people with extensive umpiring experience."
- Umpires will communicate with replay officials via headset, presumably in or near the clubhouse tunnel. This would appear to indicate that the on-field umpires won't actually see the replays themselves, allowing them to tell still-furious managers, "hey, that's what New York said."
- Managers will not be allowed to challenge certain plays. Boundary calls on home runs are already covered under MLB's bare-bones replay system, and whether to send those to New York to be looked at will remain up to the discretion of umpires. Balls and strikes and checked swings, the ultimate in judgment calls, will not be reviewable. Everything else appears to be on the table, including the recently controversial "neighborhood play" at second base.
- MLB is considering how to stop teams from stalling until they can see TV replays, thereby allowing them to only challenge calls with a high probability of being overturned. The current thinking, Manfred said, is to not allow managers to argue calls before challenging them. A noble idea, but ballplayers are masters of stalling.
As recently as five years ago, Bud Selig was strongly against any sort of instant replay in baseball. But hearts and minds can change.
"My father always said life is a series of adjustments and I've made an adjustment," Selig said. "There isn't one play or one instance that changed my mind. It has just happened over time. I know we're doing the right thing."
A noble admission, if one that's been too long coming.
Nothing's set in stone. The final details, especially the number of challenges, still have to be agreed upon. The players and umpires will still have to vote on the system in January, but with almost no verbal opposition thus far from either group, and the most important aspect—cost—now handled, it's fair to say this is actually going to happen. A major part of Bud Selig's legacy will be bringing MLB in line with every other sport in the 21st century, and only waiting until 2014 to do it.