The initial furor over baseball’s expanded replay system seems to have subsided and former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, one of the commissioner’s office architects of the system, says he thinks it has been “remarkably effective,” although noting there had been “occasional hiccups.”
La Russa said he immediately had seen two areas that needed to be addressed, or at least clarified, in the process. Those were the catch and transfer by a fielder and the potential collision plays between baserunner and catcher at home plate.
Those kind of plays had accounted for close to 30 percent of the challenges but La Russa thought the catch and transfer rule, at least, would be made clearer. And on Friday, Major League Baseball sent out some new guidelines, basically saying that the fielder does not have to remove the ball from his glove in order for an out to be recorded.
This spring, La Russa had forecast that if managers and teams employed the system judiciously, the technology would be so good that if they challenged a call, the call would be overturned. Instead of the first 142 reviews, only 59 were reviewed, meaning that managers early on were challenging “bang-bang” plays, which are the least likely to be overturned.
An MLB official explained that Joe Torre and especially La Russa had toured the camps this spring, talking to each manager and advising him as how to best approach the system.
“The system was put in place for critical game situations and obvious misses, not the ‘bang-bang’ play,” said the official.
La Russa said, “The managers have to decide, ‘Is it really impactful to challenge a call with two outs and a runner at first base in the early innings?”
One of La Russa’s mottos as a Hall of Fame manager was “trust your gut.’
“The way this is supposed to work,” he said, “is if your gut doesn’t fire up and a certain play hurts, then it’s not impactful. You don’t walk out there like, ‘What’s the big deal.’ You sprint out there and argue and then if you need to challenge, then you challenge.”
The Cardinals’ Mike Matheny was the most cautious of all managers, not offering his first challenge until the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game in New York — when Matt Carpenter, carrying the tying run, was thrown out at the plate.
“I really think some managers have really distinguished themselves by approaching these things exactly like it was defined,” La Russa said.
“Terry Collins, Mike Matheny, Buck Showalter ... there have been a number of managers really restrained in challenging. We really don’t want this to happen three or four time a game.
“Collins (of the New York Mets) was two for two. He made his challenge within a minute and within a minute he had his answer. Both times (the overturn) helped him win games.”
Through the first 3½ weeks of the season, the average time between challenge filed and result received was 1 minute 58 seconds, or less than a commercial break between innings.
“Early on, some other managers were trying to get a feel for what was impactful and they’ve decreased their challenges,” La Russa said.
He also lauded the umpires who were taking their weeklong tours in reviewing plays in the New York City command post.
“I spent three days in the replay center,” La Russa said, “and I was really impressed for a lot of reasons how conscientious and serious the umpires are with this responsibility.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, man, I’ve got this (job) for a week.’ They’re really working at it.”
It has been said by several baseball people that perhaps an unintended consequence of the expanded replay system was that the umpiring had improved on the field, too.
La Russa didn’t dissuade that.
“It shows you how good they are,” he said.
“An important part of this is they’re being appreciated by the fans who get to see these replays on the scoreboard now for how difficult those close calls are. An obvious miss doesn’t happen very often. But in the short term and the long term, the respect for them is growing.”
No system is perfect, of course, and La Russa said, “Managers will get more used to making these types of (challenges) just like the ones they’ve got to make if they’re handling a pitching staff. They have to get a feel for what’s impactful.
“If there’s a ‘bang-bang’ play, they’d be rolling the dice if they challenged. Be cool as to what you say.”
Commissioner Bud Selig said he considered the results from first month or so of replay “amazing.
“I don’t think we had a right to expect it to be this good this fast,” Selig said.
“I watch a lot of NFL games and (officials) make mistakes all day long and nobody says a word about it. All of a sudden, we put in a new system and it becomes a big deal. I think it’s phenomenal and it will get better and I’m a guy who three or four years ago wasn’t crazy about it.”
LA RUSSA ON PUJOLS
As his manager for 11 years with the Cardinals, La Russa had a vested interest as he watched the highlights of Albert Pujols hitting his 500th home for the Los Angeles Angels last week.
“When I saw that swing for 500, it reminded me of the swing for his third home run (in Game 3) in the World Series. That night (Cardinals hitting coach) Mark McGwire said, ‘”That swing is just so basically perfect.’