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Expanded replay plan could be announced this week

Replay was at the heart of a controversy involving Angel Hernandez and the Oakland A's back in May. (Mark Duncan/AP) Replay was at the heart of a controversy involving Angel Hernandez and the Oakland A's back in May. (Mark Duncan/AP)

According to a tweet by David Lennon of Long Island's Newsday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig could announce Thursday the implementation of expanded replay for this year's playoffs.

This development comes from the owners' meetings, which are taking place in Cooperstown this week, and builds on the momentum for expanded replay from the May owners' meetings in New York. At that time, MLB executive vice president Joe Torre said, "We're considering much more than the trap play and fair/foul," but expressed the popular concern about slowing the pace of games, and said that opinion was split on, and he was personally against, the idea of using a challenge system like the NFL's.

At that time, it seemed that the implementation of such a plan wouldn't come until at least the start of the 2014 season because of the technological infrastructure required to enable expanded replay, not to mention the associated costs, but if the momentum is there, baseball has a month and a half to get things ready and up to speed (and, hopefully, battle tested in regular-season games) before the postseason.

Baseball implemented its current replay for home-run calls in late August 2008, but that system, unaltered since, relies entirely on broadcast footage and a single dugout-level monitor for the on-field umpires. Previous assumptions have been that expanded replay, particularly for fair/foul calls, would implement additional technology such as tennis' Hawkeye System and golf's Trackman, both of which they had previously tested in the Arizona Fall League and the two New York ballparks.

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Replay isn't a guarantee of correct or controversy-free officiating. We saw a crew led by Angel Hernandez fail to recognize on replay what looked to seemingly everyone else like a clear game-tying home run back in May, and it's unlikely that replay would have overturned the controversial infield-fly call in last year's National League Wild Card Game, a call MLB Network's Harold Reynolds expertly illustrated may have been the correct one after all. Still, that play was a perfect example of how the new wild-card play-in format heightens the need for expanded replay. As damaging as a blown call can be to a team's efforts in a short series, such a call can completely alter the outcome of a single game, and with four teams guaranteed to have their seasons come down to a single double-elimination game, baseball can ill-afford to proceed with their new playoff format without a better safety net for the umpires.

The prospect of expanded replay should thus be greeted with cautious optimism. If done right, replay should greatly improve the game, greatly reducing (but not eliminating) blown calls without unduly lengthening games or opening the door for additional misjudgments. It remains to be seen if baseball can implement such an ideal system in the six weeks remaining in the 2013 regular season, but it certainly seems worth trying.

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