Major League Baseball's opening day marks the official beginning of baseball's expanded instant replay. (Last week’s official games in Australia did not have the replay feature.) Theoretically, as The New York Post put it in January, “Instead of kicking dirt on umps, or getting into their face Earl-Weaver style, managers will now simply voice their displeasure about a call with a simple video challenge.”
That umpires are fallible should come as no surprise. Even the best umpires sometimes miss calls. They are, after all, only human. What is surprising, however, is MLB’s limited set of replay rules—which seem more for show than for actual effect.
According to MLB.com’s official replay FAQ, a manager can use his one allotted challenge in the first through sixth innings. If he succeeds in his challenge, he gets another challenge within the first six innings. If he succeeds in his second challenge, however, he doesn’t get any more replays, since by rule a manager can never have more than two in a game (for some reason). However, if he’s out of challenges and it’s late in the game, he can still ask an umpire for a replay and be met with a resounding “Maybe!”
There are several questionable aspects of this setup. For starters, it turns replay into a strategic layer of gameplay rather than a failsafe against human arbiters. It is not at all difficult to envision a situation in which a manager chooses not to exercise his replay right on an early critical play for fear he won’t have it available to challenge a hypothetical critical play later in the game. And similarly, runs scored in innings one through six count just as much as those scored in the seventh and onward—so the distinction by inning of when manager-initiated challenges are allowed is pointless.