Instant Replay, Plate Collisions, and Opening Day in Australia

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Two years ago, we saw the introduction of the 1-game wild card playoff game. There are two major arguments for it: more teams get a shot at the playoffs, and it makes the month of September more intense. I can understand both of those points, but I still can’t stand it.

The single-elimination playoff game directly contradicts the MLB philosophy.

Call me a “purest” if you have to, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. The baseball season is 162 games long. It is played series after series for six months. It’s a grueling grind; it’s a marathon. Suddenly, after months of consistent fundamentals, an entire season can be dictated by 1 swing of the bat. Or one pitch Or one error. Or one non-call.

The playoff structure wasn’t broken, but I guess the MLB just felt like meddling.

This year, the MLB is rolling out three more new changes that I have conflicting feelings about. Let’s take a look at each of them starting with the change I agree with the most.

1. Expanded instant replay.

From what I’ve read, MLB managers have given a mostly positive response to the new instant replay rules.  The thought of removing part of “the human element” of the game irked me in the beginning, but I think they’ve done a good job declaring what is reviewable and what is not.

The “in the area” play at second base on double plays: not reviewable. Balls and strikes are obviously not reviewable. But things like bang-bang tags or force plays on the bases or trap catches in the outfield are obvious reasons to support the use of instant replay. Batters getting hit by pitches is also reviewable along with homers and ground rule doubles.

My only real fear is that the game is going to get slowed down even further. Will challenges mess with the rhythm of a pitcher? What if opposing managers decide to throw the flag out simply to get a pitcher out of sync?

Or if a play is close in the outfield, will a manager tell the next batter to step out and take a few practice swings before he goes up to bat so that the dudes watching the replay in the clubhouse can get a better look at it before the manager tosses out the flag?

For those who already complain that baseball is a slow game, they’re going to be even more frustrated with the challenge delays. But if the managers are fully in support, then I can’t really complain much.

It’s a bummer that Dusty Baker got fired last year too because he would’ve been the world’s worst challenger ever.

2. Banning catcher collisions.

I’m less high on the collisions mainly because the way it has been presented makes it seem like there is going to be a lot of gray area involved. It feels like a pass interference decision in football where there is a lot of wishy-washy possibilities.

The rule basically states that the baserunner can’t go out of his way to tackle the catcher and that the catcher can’t block the plate unless he either has the ball or is making an effort to catch it. Runners who break these rules automatically be called out, even if he drops the ball. If the catcher breaks these rules, the runner is automatically safe.

These rules are supposed to minimize collisions and maximize slides, all with the goal of maximizing player safety. No one liked watching Buster Posey miss the entire season after his leg got destroyed on a collision at the plate.

But to me, there is just way too much ambiguity for this to work well. For all the work that the MLB is trying to do to utilize modern technology and make the right calls using instant replay, this seems to work in the opposite direction. Too much subjective possibility here.

Plus, it’s literally the only contact the game of baseball really has (not counting getting hit by the ball). It’s an exciting play, and it will be a shame to lose it.

Besides, we’ll never get gorgeous shots like one of Willie McGee and Gary Carter in October 1991.

UPDATE: The more I think about this, the more I’m also concerned that now the baserunner is more at risk. Sure, the catcher might be safe, but if he’s got the ball and can still take the plate away, and the batter isn’t allowed to run him over? To me, there’s no down side for the catcher assuming he has the ball. The pendulum has swung to the runner being unprotected instead of the catcher. Doesn’t make much sense to me.

3. Opening Day in Australia.

Man, I love Zack Grienke.

Did you guys see what he had to say this week when asked about his excitement level to pitch in Australia this Spring?

“Zero excitement.”

Hahaha. Terrific stuff. Naturally, MLB officials are ticked at him, but he has every right to be unhappy about the decision. His first start of the year will be on the opposite side of the planet, and that is guaranteed to mess with his rhythm and rest. Pitchers want to fall into sync as soon as they possibly can. There’s no way a trip to Down Under is going to help him do that.

But it’s stupidity is about way more than the pitchers. It’s just completely ludicrous.

I talked a lot about springtime and hope in my last post. Basically all of that is irrelevant in the southern hemisphere. Because the seasons are inverted in the opposite hemisphere, and it will feel like fall in Sydney.

That’s right, when the Dodgers play the Diamondbacks on March 22 and 23, plants will be dying and the warm season will be ending. Why would anyone think that hosting Opening Day – the consummation of hope and new beginnings – in a country where the season doesn’t reflect that spirit?

It’s backwards. It doesn’t jive.

It’s also functioning as a sort of “soft-Opening” for the rest of the league too. I’m going to be at Opening Day in Cincinnati on March 31…but the season will have started a full week ago across the globe.

So the teams that are playing there aren’t excited about it, and then it robs the rest of the league from feeling the full celebration of the true Opening Day. It feels illegitimate.

Not to mention the fans in Arizona and LA are getting gypped of two home games apiece.

Teams can still celebrate their own team’s first game, but c’mon – 3 of the 5 teams in the NL West could be a full game out of first place a week before the season starts. It’s tainting the fanfare of the real Opening Day in the USA.

Who knows, maybe baseball fandom will skyrocket in Australia after these two games, but I’m with Zack on this one – not excited at all.

-apc.

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