BALTIMORE — Is the best use of the new instant replay little to no use?
Millions of dollars have been spent by Major League Baseball to bring its central control in New York and ballparks up to snuff on the new replay system, which will debut this season.
The Red Sox’ foray into this starts Monday afternoon at Camden Yards in their season opener.
There are three central people involved from the Red Sox’ end.
There’s Billy Broadbent, the video director who will be the one who views the replay of a play in question and then will contact bench coach Torey Lovullo on a special phone.
Lovullo, in turn, will tell manager John Farrell whether the play should be challenged.
Broadbent will have a special place in each visiting ballpark where he will set up his equipment and where the replay phone always will be close by.
“There’s different responsibilities throughout this whole process and we’re still playing around with it,” said Lovullo. “We feel very good about what the process is going to be.
“We have a replay that’s going to be reviewed inside the clubhouse [by Broadbent]. In the dugout, we’re just going to follow our instincts like we normally do. John is going to have a strategy with what he’s going to do — and once it gets to that point we’ll have a relay system from Billy to me to John through a phone call and I’ll relay it to John with some hand commands. There’s no other way to do it. Everybody in baseball is going to handle it the same way that I’m aware of.”
Farrell has the final say on whether he wants a play reviewed. Broadbent can also pick up the phone and suggest that a play be reviewed.
“We’ll probably have some trial and error and some things that don’t go perfectly well at the very beginning,” Lovullo said. “We want to get it right, just like everyone else does.
“We’ve talked through about 15 different scenarios and 15 different possibilities. The common one will be if a play is missed, John runs out there immediately. Billy has time to review it and [Farrell] looks in and I give him the yes or no sign. There are so many things that can happen outside of that one scenario.
“We’re going to put our faith in Billy upstairs who can review the play quickly and let us know what he thinks. Billy is great at watching games. If he sees something that isn’t right, he can initiate the phone call on his own and say you need to get out there and challenge that play.”
Lovullo indicated one of the plays that likely will be reviewed often is the stolen base.
“The runner goes into second base on a bang-bang play, it’s close, and you just don’t know,” he said. “Billy will have the ability to stop it, go frame by frame, and have time to see if he’s safe or out. On his own, he’ll make those calls.”
The special phones are installed in all dugouts — unless David Ortiz takes a bat to it. At Fenway, Broadbent’s stuff will be in an upstairs area above the clubhouse.
“It’s a pretty sophisticated system,” Lovullo said. “Billy has a little dial, a little joystick, and he’s able to see it quickly. He can get to it. It’ll be exact same information they will have in New York where they can review it instantly.
“When the umpires get on the headset, the umpires are talking to someone who is fair and impartial to the mood and the moment at the central control in New York. Billy is going to have the ability to slow it down immediately. The umpires are very well aware of the distraction of slowing down the game, so they want to move the game along.”
Lovullo said umpires “will have communication with the manager and . . . the umpires are prepared to allow time for the manager to decide whether to challenge. They will eventually ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ There are some delays which are built in.”
The play must be challenged before the next pitch is thrown.
“What constitutes the next pitch is the pitcher standing on the rubber and the hitter in the batter’s box,” Lovullo said. “You’re going to see pitchers delaying or saying or thinking, ‘I’m not ready because I think I tagged him on the tag play.’ Maybe a fielder will say, ‘Don’t go on the rubber.’ We’ve had meetings on how to do this.”
Lovullo thinks fan reaction to a play will have a role.
“The fans are going to tell us,” he said. “Where the fans have a TV monitor we can hear them in the dugout. That might prompt a challenge from us as well.”
Fans will not get a replay on the board until the play is officially challenged. But their reaction to a call at the time of the play will be an indicator that the play should be reviewed.
No doubt, there will be a new strategy to the game. Each team is given one challenge over the first six innings. If your challenge is upheld, you get another challenge. Umpires can review anything they deem close from the seventh inning on.
“It’s going to depend on the game situation and how we use it,” Farrell said. “I can’t say the timing is something that might not influence when to use it — the timing inside of a given game if you’re trying to buy some extra time in some way. I think the gamesmanship is one thing that is really going to be looked at closely by the umpires to keep the flow of the game going.”
While most managers are on board, Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon has thought through a variety of possible stumbling blocks.
Maddon had his team practice one of them in spring training. On a play in which the final out of the inning came via a play in the infield, Maddon had the infielder throw to the plate to cut down a runner trying to score, in case the play at first was challenged and overruled.
“I think Joe thinks about all of those scenarios and he makes us aware of them,” Tampa’s Evan Longoria said. “We’re going to have things like this crop up and I think we’re going to be one of the more-prepared teams.”
There will be camera feeds from all 30 parks that are beamed back to the MLB control center. MLB also has installed cameras at home plate in every park that will give a good view of baserunners, particularly for the home plate collision rule.
Things that cannot be challenged include balls and strikes, balks, and the neighborhood play at second base. But force plays, tag plays, ground-rule doubles, hit by pitches, and fan interference are reviewable. Home run/border calls also remain reviewable.
Umpires probably won’t huddle to get a call right. They’ll huddle only to send it for review.
The hope is the replay decisions will be swift — in less than three minutes — and that there won’t be that many. The best use is limited or no use.
The games are long enough.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.