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Sports

The NFL-ification of Baseball Is Underway

MLB fans can look forward to more agonizingly long replays and more complicated explanations of rules during broadcasts.

by David Matthews
Aug 1 2014, 5:55pm

Mike Redmond argues with an umpire. Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If you've watched an NFL game in the last few years, you've most likely picked up on the annoying over-explanations given by referees when they announce their rulings after a play goes to the replay booth. It happens a lot, doesn't it, Ed Hochuli?

Now, since I would never disparage a man as ripped as Mr. Hochuli here (he's a lawyer, too—do not fuck with Ed Hochuli), I'll point out that his verbosity has a reason behind it: He worked the Leon Lett Game in 1993, when the Dallas Cowboys blocked a Miami Dolphins field goal attempt, which appeared to seal the win for America's Team. But Lett attempted to recover the ball for the Cowboys, flubbed in while slipping around in the snow, and the Dolphins got the ball back to try the kick again. They made it, won the game, and 21 years later we all remember who Pete Stoyanovich is. 

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In the years since, refsplaining has crept into the broadcast aspect of the game as FOX trots out former ref Mike Pereira to break things down for viewers in the manner of an MSNBC legal expert going through the complexities of a Supreme Court decision. This year CBS brought on their own former ref, Mike Carey, who will no doubt be very skilled at describing which part of the foot needs to be dragged along which white line for a catch to count.

Baseball fans have this sort of hair-splitting during replays to look forward to, probably in the near future. Why? Two words: Buster Posey.

In 2011, the San Francisco Giant was injured in a collision at home plate. It took MLB time, but this year they trotted out a new rule that would hopefully prevent that sort of thing: Rule 7.13. Long story short, this means that catchers can't block the plate when they don't have the ball, making their jobs much more difficult. Let's paint a word picture. An outfielder hits the relay man moments after a runner rounds third. The relay man fires to the catcher (who, ignoring all the training he has ever had) is standing to the side of the plate, waiting for the ball. The catcher receives the ball and only then can he block the plate—but by then the runner has already scored. 

This rule appears to have only come into play twice this season, both times in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. The first time, a Reds player got called out at home during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the call was overturned—incorrectly, as MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre later announced. Last night, the Florida Marlins threw out a Reds runner by several feet, but the call was overturned once again after viewers were treated to what felt like a long, long time of watching replays and looking at the umpires standing around on the field trying to figure it out.

The real silliness occurred later, when ESPN anchor Jay Crawford and Jim McKean, a former umpire turned ESPN umpiring analyst, got to gabbin' about the play. The pearl-clutching on display is delightful: "If we think the rule is controversial now, wait until it decides a postseaon game, and that is entirely likely." As far as we can tell, the rule has been an issue twice this season, in over 3,300 games. It seems a little crazy to start squawking about an experimental rule—one that players, umpires, and the league are still adjusting to—potentially screwing up the World Series.

On the other hand, the era of instant replays—and the absurd discussions centered around the precise, down-to-the-millimeter locations of balls, feet, and gloves which have already infected NFL broadcast—is here, which means we can look forward to long, long explanations from former umps and announcers over what counts as "blocking the plate" and what "control of the ball" means. Just what baseball needed: more delays.

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