April 4, 2014 at 10:54 am

John Niyo

Baseball gets it right with replay -- sort of

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is 2-0 in challenging disputed calls. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

Detroit — This isn’t the first time they’ve gotten it wrong trying to get it right.

And like so many of the reviews we’ll see in Major League Baseball this season, it’ll take time to correct this latest error.

Too much time, probably. But eventually they’ll get it fixed, this first real foray into instant replay, and years from now maybe we’ll all wonder what the fuss was about.

In the meantime, though, it’ll be … awkward. That’s the word Brad Ausmus used describe the current state of instant replay in baseball, and it’s probably the most accurate description I’ve heard so far.

League officials finally adopted an “expanded replay” system for 2014, one they insist will cover 90 percent of plays. And while it’s long overdue — and still strangely resented by so many in this game — that’s a start, at least.

In the Tigers case, it’s working, too. Ausmus, a career .250 hitter in two decades as a player, is hitting 1.000 as a rookie manager after winning a pair of challenges in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over the Royals at Comerica Park.

The first came in the sixth inning when rookie Tyler Collins, batting with runners at first and second, appeared to hit into a double play. Replays showed he beat the relay throw to first — barely — and taking his cue from first base coach Omar Vizquel’s emphatic safe signal, Ausmus came out to challenge the umpire’s call.

But that’s where it gets awkward. A bit silly, even.

“I’m really just taking my time getting out there, so that we can get a determination from our video room as to whether to use the challenge,” admitted Ausmus, who later saw a “safe” call overturned at first base in the top of the 10th inning. “It’s a little awkward because I get out there, and I don’t really have much to say.”

Strange sight

He shouldn’t have to, really. If baseball wants to get it right, they’ll get rid of the challenges next season and implement a more centralized system. Let the managers worry about the game and have a replay official — either in New York, or preferably on site — be the judge and jury.

As it is, we’ve got managers stalling while their own video coordinators review a play, then we’ve got the official review that follows if there’s a challenge. Why not eliminate the redundancy?

Even Tigers closer Joe Nathan, a self-described “traditionalist” who wasn’t in favor of expanded replay, was asking that Wednesday.

“There’s a case where if you’re sitting there watching in the booth back in New York and you see a close play that may get a challenge, you would think it’d be one of those things where they get on the headset and say, ‘He’s out’ or ‘He’s safe’ right away,” Nathan said. “So it won’t take time for them to look at it while they call it.

“I think as we go through this process it’ll speed up. But that’s the only concern for me is extending these games and making them longer than they need to be.”

The first challenge Wednesday took roughly 3 minutes to decide, and the second lasted a minute, if that. So by all accounts, the system worked in its Detroit debut.

But later Wednesday in San Diego, Padres manager Bud Black was denied in his request for a challenge in a game against the Dodgers because — after a brief huddle — the umpiring crew decided he’d waited too long before coming out to challenge.

All of which explains why Ausmus slow-walked his way out of the dugout Wednesday, trying to give his replay assistant, Matt Martin, a chance to take a closer look. And why catcher Alex Avila noted it’ll probably be a team effort to stall, at times, with “Bull Durham”-style visits to the mound to talk about dinner plans.

“Or when the time comes, maybe fantasy football,” Avila joked. “Try to make a trade or something.”

Work in progress

There’ll always be something. There is no perfect system — everyone knows that. And to baseball’s credit, they’ve admitted this installation of expanded replay will be a three-year experiment, with changes likely.

But less than a week into the regular season, we’ve already seen plenty of red flags.

Tuesday night in Arizona, San Francisco lost a one-run game after 1) a close call wasn’t overturned following a challenge and 2) the ensuing blown call at home plate wasn’t reviewed because the manager was out of challenges.

That sort of defeats the point of expanded replay, doesn’t it? The point is to get as many calls right as possible, no?

Well, not exactly. As baseball executive Tony La Russa explained it a few months ago, the league is trying to eliminate “the dramatic miss, not all misses.”

This being baseball, though, it didn’t take long to find the holes in their swing.


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