MLB Column: The Failure of Instant Replay in this postseason

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi watches during the fourth inning of Game 1 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi watches during the fourth inning of Game 1 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

I want to begin with saying I’m not inherently against instant replay. Yes, it does waste a lot of time in an age where they’re trying to limit how long a game takes, but…most of these postseason games have reached the four-hour mark. Half innings alone have stretched over thirty minutes. Good baseball takes time to play, and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with, however, is when replay goes wrong. My first example will be a little-known baseball rule known as backswing interference. I first encountered this while interning in the Cape Cod Baseball League this past summer. Not even our coaching staff understood why interference was called but no one was out. Backswing interference is different. All it does is deaden the ball so no one can steal bases while the catcher was being interfered with.

In Major League Baseball, backswing interference is not reviewable. So, when Javy Baez struck out and knocked Matt Wieters in the facemask, he was able to reach two runs that shouldn’t have scored. If something like backswing interference can cause that kind of damage, why isn’t it renewable?

We all know what happens next. Three and a half innings later, with a 9-8 lead, Wilson Contreras fired down to first base to pickoff Jose Lobaton. Initially called safe, Cubs manager Joe Maddon challenged. How did they solve this problem? They synced two different camera angles together. A bunch of men in New York called Lobaton out and we, as viewers, are left to question how a call that required that much scrutiny could be overruled.

Now, we’ll look at the now-famous rule 7.13, plate collision. Joe Maddon was ejected for arguing this. Here’s the rule: A catcher who is not in possession of the ball cannot block the path of a runner attempting to score. The logic behind this is obvious and people with personal stories in favor of this rule came out of the woodwork. Most poignant to me was the man who told of his brother rupturing his spleen in a home plate collision and nearly dying. There’s also the very real presence of CTE that we can’t ignore in the world of sports anymore, and catchers are the most likely to get it.

So here’s what happened. Charlie Culberson tried to score from second on a single and was called out for never touching the plate. He also evaded the tag. The Dodgers challenged. The umpires in New York decided that Contreras blocked the plate before he had possession of the ball, thus violating the rule. The run scored, and the Dodgers went on to win 5-2.

In this case, I agree with this rule. Safety is important. The game needs to change when we realize threats are being posed to our players. The new sliding rule that came about after Chase Utley blatantly broke Ruben Tejada’s leg, for example. It’s a good rule, but it’s not a rule most players, or umpires, agree with. It was renewable nonetheless and the right call was ultimately made based on the rules of Major League Baseball.

Finally, the side of replay we’re going to look at is the call for Joe Girardi to be fired after failing to review a play when the Indians’ batter was ruled hit by the pitch. I’m going to come to his defense here. Part of the new time-saving rules baseball is trying to implement involves time limits to the amount of time you have to decide to review a play. If you aren’t sure and you review the play, you lose a challenge. Wasting a challenge on a hit by pitch would be stupid, and Girardi ran out of time.

Maybe it’s the sheer aggression of Yankees fans that resulted in this minor mistake resulting in calls for this long-time manager to be fired, despite having led this team to a World Series and never having a losing season in all his time with the Yankees.

What I’m trying to get at here is that no aspect of replay is perfect. Additionally, depending on how the call goes, some people will be for it and some people will be against it. And that opinion can change at any time. The question we have to ask ourselves is simple. Is it worth it to implement instant replay when it has had such a large impact on this postseason?


Rachel Schaefer is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.schaefer@uconn.edu.