- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Major League Baseball officials spent two hours Wednesday briefing managers and general managers about tentative details of the new, challenge-based instant-replay system that will go into effect next season.
However, they were also told by MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre that "nothing is (set) in stone."
Among the proposed details that Torre and fellow replay committee members Tony La Russa and John Schuerholz spelled out at the meeting, sources said, were the following:
• Managers would get one challenge each game. If they challenge a call and their challenge is upheld, they would get a second challenge. If not, they would be out of challenges for the rest of the game.
However, from the seventh inning on, umpires would be given the authority to initiate a replay on their own. Managers also can challenge plays in the late innings, if they still have a challenge remaining.
• All calls would be reviewed by replay umpires working out of a central location in New York. The managers and GMs were told that, if there is a close or controversial play, the replay umpires would begin reviewing replays of the call before a manager challenges it, in order to make the process move as quickly as possible.
• Managers would not have to throw handkerchiefs, resin bags or challenge flags. They would simply inform the umpires that they wish to challenge a call after they go out to discuss or argue a play. Umpires would be encouraged to ask the managers, early in the argument, if they would initiate a challenge.
• Teams would be permitted to have a coach or a team employee stationed in the dugout to watch replays, seconds after a call, and advise managers on which calls they could or should challenge. That rule would be designed both to shorten the process and to increase the chances that when a manager challenges a call, he is more likely to succeed.
• Almost all calls, other than balls and strikes, would be reviewable, including plays on the bases. However, hit batters, the "neighborhood play" at second base and foul balls over the first- and third-base bags are likely not to be challengeable. Managers, though, would be allowed to challenge whether a ball lands fair or foul in the outfield.
After the meeting, Torre said no details have been finalized. They all need to be negotiated with both the players' and umpires' unions. So the purpose of Wednesday's briefing, he said, was to "just sort of plant some seeds on some of our thinking."
The managers and GMs also were told the new system will be a work in progress, even after details are approved, most likely at the January owners meeting, and that baseball expects it to take up to three years before it gets every wrinkle ironed out.
Sources said a number of concerns and objections were raised during the session. But managers who spoke to ESPN.com afterward were almost universally positive in their reactions to what they heard.
"I think people understand that it's here," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "So I think now, it's just a matter of understanding the whole system -- how the challenge works, understanding the placement of runners, understanding the dynamics of the seventh-to-ninth inning. A lot of little things, I think, are details that are still being ironed out. But I think the overall feeling is, it will be embraced by the managers as a tool that you didn't have in the past, even if it's an imperfect system."
As recently as two years ago, commissioner Bud Selig was saying publicly that there was next to no support for the use of replay in baseball. But by Wednesday afternoon, one manager described the current level of support for replay as "unanimous" among managers and general managers.
"I think instant replay is a good move, to be honest with you," new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "The goal is to get the play right. And you wouldn't want a missed call, never mind to affect a game, but to affect a World Series championship or affect who actually makes it to the postseason. There's too much upside with instant replay not to at least explore the opportunities with it."
The Giants' Bruce Bochy, one of the few managers who has publicly favored more replay for years, had originally supported a system that would have placed a fifth umpire in a replay booth at every game, and allowed that extra umpire, not managers, to initiate all reviews.
However, he said Wednesday he is just "glad to see this happening in baseball. It's time, I think, with our technology. It's all about getting it right."
"Really, to be honest, I was open-minded about whether we should have a challenge system or a fifth umpire," Bochy said. "I just wanted to get replay in order. So however you challenge it, it didn't matter to me. Whether you went out to the umpire and told him you wanted to challenge it, that wasn't important."
Despite the widespread support, managers are worried about several aspects of the new system. One, obviously, would be the possibility that they could unsuccessfully challenge a play early in a game and then lose a game because they couldn't challenge a critical call later.
"Hopefully you don't make a mistake and lose your challenge," Bochy said. "But at the same time, you hate to lose a ball game and think a (missed) play had something to do with it, and that becomes the focus of the talk after the game. So now you've got a chance to play a part in getting a call corrected without having to yell and scream and getting thrown out, and the call not changed."
Sources said several managers raised significant concerns about the rule that would permit a coach or team employee to watch a game on a monitor in or near the dugout, in real time. If that were permitted, one manager said, it would dramatically increase the danger of a team having its signs stolen.
So managers lobbied for a system that would only allow the showing of replays on the dugout monitor, not live action. Rather than resist those objections, though, Torre said the purpose of the meeting was to encourage managers and general managers to express opinions and recommend possible changes, and he said that MLB is open to making those changes.
The session, he said, was to "just give them something to think about, and to let them call us with any questions or suggestions. So, you know, it certainly wasn't a meeting where we said, 'This is the way it's going to be.' It was basically, 'This is where we are right now.'"
One final worry, voiced by several managers, was a system that gives them one more in-game decision that can be second-guessed. But baseball officials tried to sell them on the idea that the new system merely gives them one more tool that can have a significant impact on a game.
"Guys like me, you're in your routine, so anything that throws you out of your routine, immediately panic goes up," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But they realize that. ... Joe said, 'It's kind of like having a pinch hitter on your bench and trying to decide when to use him. It'll just be one more decision.'"
Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin was used in this report.
Major League Baseball officials spent two hours Wednesday briefing managers and general managers about tentative details of the new, challenge-based instant-replay system which will go into effect next season.