Baseball 2014: Replay comes with promise of better game

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The red-faced manager-umpire tirade of years past might fade this season as expanded instant replay crashes the hallowed diamonds of Major League Baseball, removing the need for such colorful arguments.

Spring training offered a minimal glimpse of how the Pirates will use the technology to their advantage, but the club believes the attempt to offer more conclusive proof on close calls is a welcome change.

"The idea is to eliminate the obviously missed call," said general manager Neal Huntington. "It's not to get every call right. It would slow the game way down. We're not there yet. You eliminate that obviously missed call. Sometimes, that comes in the second inning. [MLB] is the first to admit this process is evolving. The important part is getting the worst calls right."

The Pirates planned to be aggressive on challenges in Philadelphia this past weekend to get their feet wet at Citizens Bank Park.

In general, the Pirates plan to designate a club employee to watch game feeds and quickly relay information to the bench to determine if a challenge is warranted, Huntington said.

The new rules call for standardized video feeds so that the person tasked with advising to challenge or not will have access to the exact same camera angles as his counterpart from the opponent's team.

It also will be the same feed used by the umpires back at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York City who will ultimately rule on the play.

"Ultimately, in our situation we'll have a good team effort. We'll have somebody whose responsibility is to evaluate the replay, provide that information to the bench, and they'll relay the information to [manager] Clint [Hurdle]," Huntington said.

"Ultimately, we'll make the decision as a group whether to challenge or not based on the game situation and the conviction we have on the replay or showing the call on the field was correct or incorrect."

If the decision is made to challenge a play, Hurdle will alert the crew chief. Managers are assured one challenge per game, and possibly two.

If Hurdle challenges a play that is overturned, he will receive a second challenge. If the play stands, he cannot challenge again.

The umpires on the field will pass the challenge to New York City, where a final call will be made.

"It's like any other decision the manager has to make during the game. He's got to weigh the conviction he has in the player or the replay," Huntington said. "Managers get paid to make a lot of decisions in a game, and this is another one."

Boundary calls have been subject to review for several years now, but expanded instant replay will allow challenges to nearly every play on the field with the exception of balls and strikes.

The Pirates have not been immune to blown calls in years past.

In the wee hours of July 28, 2011, the Pirates were famously victim to a blown call by umpire Jerry Meals that resulted in a 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

Meals ruled Julio Lugo was safe in a play at the plate, making him the winning run in the bottom of the 19th inning, 6 hours and 39 minutes after the first pitch.

Instant replay and photographs indicated he was squarely tagged out by catcher Michael McKenry.

Major League Baseball later acknowledged the call "appeared" to be incorrect.

"Our best lab test is going to be the two games in Philadelphia with all the camera feeds, with a guy just like it will be during the season," said Hurdle.

"We've verbally walked through many, many situations. We'll have a plan in place how we'll go about it."

The Pirates have had a discussion about setting up a simulator to practice making decisions on which calls to challenge.

"Where we don't have to have a game going on, but it's like driving a car, driving an airplane," said Hurdle.

"We're mindful of the fact that this is a historic opportunity for us to continue to improve our game, to maintain the integrity and the flow of the game, the pace of the game."

The club challenged one play in spring training on March 19 when non-roster infielder Michael Martinez was caught in a rundown.

Martinez was on second with one out in the seventh inning when Jaff Decker grounded back to Boston Red Sox pitcher Burke Badenhop, who turned and caught Martinez in a rundown.

The Pirates had someone in a truck that served as a command center and communicated via walkie-talkie with the dugout. Hurdle challenged the call, but it stood.

It all lasted a little more than a minute.


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.

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