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Throwing a challenge flag on replay

11/14/2013

You know how this goes: Among the sports industries, baseball is the late adopter. While the NFL has had replay since 1986, baseball belatedly got around to its own initial limited form of replay in 2008. And while expanded replay has been on fans' wish lists for years, one of the good bits of news to come out the general managers' meetings this week is that we're finally going to get expanded replay.

The problem is that, even after years of anticipation, we still don't know what form expanded replay is going to take. We don't know how managers will be able to challenge plays, and we don't -- and can't -- know how well it's going to work in practice. We still have to wait and see what the new rules bring in January once they're hammered out via negotiations with the players' association and the umpires' union.

But as with so many developments during Bud Selig's age of change, I'd worry about the unanticipated consequences.

Take the suggestion that sustained challenges don't count against your manager's limit of two per game. If you figure out how to only make sustainable challenges, that's a cap you might never have to worry about reaching.

Does anyone think a team on its home field wouldn't deploy its own resources and exploit wireless technology to communicate when the man in the dugout should throw his official red beanbag of protest onto the diamond? If there's a way to be found, you can bet the Rays will do it. Or the A's. Or the Astros. Or somebody, because the drive to get a competitive edge -- via technology, intel or personnel, by fair means and foul -- is as old as the game itself.

So why could the problems be tied more specifically to home field? If there's a way for a team to get inside that loop of getting calls reviewed and overturned, there would be no place like home to get it done, where you can set everything up your way. (Versus carting any hardware and deploying the personnel along with you on the road, assuming you could even do so in a rival's ballpark.)

Then there's the question of what's possible to review and how that's going to vary by ballpark. After talking to one team's cameraman, it turns out every ballpark has a slightly different capacity for the number of TV cameras. During the regular season, most parks use as many as eight cameras; that number goes up during the postseason, but the limit varies by ballpark; at the All-Star Game at Citi Field this year, Fox managed to squeeze in six high-speed cameras plus 25 high-definition cameras (beyond that useless home-plate view) and a grand total of 41 cameras.

Individual teams might want to negotiate an expanded number of cameras within their local TV deal, or have them deployed by their own regional sports network. Then there's the question of automated stationary cameras. For example, you'd think every team should have a stationary camera looking at each foul pole -- but they apparently don't.

Beyond the process of reviewing material itself, the number of cameras -- whoever operates them -- define the range of possibility for what can be reviewed. Will MLB demand a universal standard that cannot be altered from park to park? If not, we could wind up with park-tailored and network-aided ranges of possibility, differing from ballpark to ballpark. Does that sound fair?

We'll have to see what comes out of baseball's additional meetings on the subject, but if you've grown skeptical over the years as far as the unintended consequences that spring from so many of the game's innovations on Selig's watch, you can bet something's going to turn out not quite the way folks envisioned now.