Tampa Bay Rays: Loss Points Out Flaw in Challenge System


Much of the Tampa Bay Rays’ loss on Friday can be blamed on a blown call at first base in the third inning. With two outs, Logan Forsythe hit a groundball to shortstop, but between Alcides Escobar taking too much time and Forsythe busting it down the line, Forsythe beat the throw to first base. However, first base umpire Brian O’Nora called Forsythe out, prompting Kevin Cash to sprint in from the dugout and promptly get ejected. That was all he could do because he was out of challenges after questioning whether Escobar truly tagged Daniel Nava in the first inning. Instead of scoring the tying run and having runners on first and third, all the Rays could do was argue then walk off the field.

It would be extremely annoying if MLB managers had unlimited challenges. We would see every remotely close play reviewed, and given that reviews often take longer than we would like anyway, Major League Baseball’s efforts to shorten games would be canceled out and then some. That being said, shouldn’t there be a standard where you don’t need to challenge? Shouldn’t there be a level of missed call where you say that the umpire was so egregiously wrong that baseball loses out by not having the play reversed?

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There are many times when replay provides us with something profound. You watch the play live and see one thing, and then a super slow-mo look tells us something else that we couldn’t see. Immediately coming to mind is a play where the third baseman missed a second tag on a Rays runner, but actually made the first tag successfully. We need challenges because there are so many close plays in baseball that need to be seen from multiple angles before we know the call. Given the time constraint involved with such decisions, better to have teams let their video guys a quick look and then decide whether to challenge than to have managers come out and challenge no matter what, slowing down the game.

The Nava play was an example of one that was worth giving a look. It was close, and there were going to be huge ramifications in the inning and quite possibly the game. It turned out that the Rays were wrong, but they were glad to have the chance to get it reviewed. However, the Forsythe play shouldn’t have needed to be reviewed because everyone who saw it live thought that Forsythe was safe, and the same was true no matter what angle you used on the replay. The only question was why O’Nora called Forsythe out–it was clear as day that he was safe.

What can baseball do about plays like this moving forward? The obvious answer is to have a guy at the replay headquarters in New York following along with each game or to have an extra replay official actually in the stadium. Then, when a call that bad is made, the official can call the crew chief, tell him that the decision needs to be reversed and one minute later, the game will move on as it should have been, with the correct call made.

We need challenges when plays are extremely close–when they are not and the incorrect call was made, there shouldn’t be a challenge and there shouldn’t be any real delay. If the manager has a challenge remaining in such instances, then great and he will get a second challenge. If he was previous successful on his first challenge, the umpire can tell him that he has a third. If he doesn’t have a challenge left, however, it shouldn’t make a difference. We don’t want managers fishing for an advantage on every close play, but obviously bad calls can’t happen in the Major Leagues. It will be a long time before every call is made correctly, but removing calls that are clearly wrong with no gray area is something that could be done right now.

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