MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Minnesota Twins

One of the most awkward feelings in the world is having a friend play you a song on the acoustic guitar in small room. This is especially true if they aren’t a particularly skilled player. It’s one of those things, for me, I just never knew where to look. Especially when they look up from their fretboard to gauge your reaction. To I look this person in the eyes as they strum some corny chords? Stare at their fingers? Gaze out the window while trying to decide if the fall would break my ankles? Needless to say, few phrases freeze me in terror quite like “here, I’ve been working on something, check it out!”

Watching the umpire crews go through their video replay machinations felt vaguely like watching somebody play the guitar. Actually, it felt like watching somebody watch someone else play the guitar, knowing how uncomfortable they must be standing around waiting for the sick spectacle to be over.

As fate would have it, I had the Jays/Twins game on at my desk when the Toronto bench opted to use their challenge on a play at first base. After supersub Munenori Kawasaki‘s throw pulled first baseman Dan Johnson off the base, the runner was called safe. Jays acting manager Kevin Seitzer wandered out towards first base, briefly chatted with the umpires who then beelined for the headsets of the video replay position in foul territory on the first base side.

Unlike the home run reviews of recent years, the umpires stay on the field, in full view of the crowd and cameras. Additionally, unlike the previous iteration of replay technology, the umps on the field are simply spectators, along for the ride like the rest of us.

So the umps stand around, two of them (?) in headphones as the call is reviewed in New York. The call is made and on goes life.

Later in the afternoon, this time with the Angels/Diamondbacks game up on my monitor, and who else but Mike Scioscia fires off his first review challenge in the second inning on a debated tag play. With Scioscialism already in midseason form, a botched hit and run put Angels third baseman Luis Jimenez dead to rights at second base. The throw sailed high but Aaron Hill leaped, snared the heave, and applied his tag on the way down…or so it seemed.

With the tag in doubt, Mike Scioscia trudged towards the umpires, asking questions and generally wasting time as director of baseball information Nick Francona reviewed the play from the clubhouse. The Angels video man then radioed in to the bench to go ahead and challenge the call, a message they signaled to Scioscia through a series of flags and flares, I assume. With a 20 second time limit in place to prevent pretty much this exact situation, the video coordinators and executive decision makers must make their call quickly.

After two-and-a-half minutes, the definitive decision finally came down from on high – the call on the field stands. Scioscia shuffled back to the dugout, tossed on a smirk-based version The Scioscia Face for good measure and the game proceeded as normal.

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The system looks as though it works…sort of? It is for the most part efficient although the limited resources of Spring Training baseball might prevent many calls from overturning. Grainy video and questionable angles make clear evidence hard to come by.

But it’s a good start. It’s a step in the right direction, we assume. Adding a timing mechanism, even a difficult to enforce :20 second rule, will keep the game moving right up until the moment that it grinds to halt so umpires can listen to somebody else watching video. As a viewer at home, we’re treated to the broadcast booth doing their best to guess right along with the fans, as nobody knows what angles the bigwigs in New York have at their disposal.

The delays, minimal as they might be, are unavoidable. And if the game is going to be delayed and the calls are mostly going to stand, can’t we have a grown man throwing a tantrum to distract us from the tedium, rather than a nine-man reenactment of a bad Noah Baumbach movie? It’s all in the name of entertainment, really. And nobody has fun watching people gaze at their shoetops.