Terrance Gore and Fixing Baseball’s Broken Replay System

When exactly was it that you realized baseball’s replay system was broken? I’m very pro-replay, but I had my suspicions regarding implementation when the system was announced. The introduction of replay should, in my opinion, represent an effort to get more calls correct, but baseball saw an opportunity to give another decision to the managers and, in doing so, create more drama, more or less copying football’s own challenge system. Even so, up until yesterday I remained pro-replay because, organizing principles aside, more of the calls were made correctly under replay than would have been without it. Then Terrance Gore stole third base.

The first six innings of yesterday’s Royals/Astros was tight. Then, in the top of the seventh with one out and the Astros holding a 3-2 lead, Sal Perez was hit by a pitch. Royals manager Ned Yost removed Gore and put in pinch-runner extraordinaire Gore. I say extraordinaire because, previously in his career, he had swiped 11 bases without getting caught (including last postseason). He promptly made it 12 of 12 by taking second base rather easily. Then, with two outs and Alex Rios batting, Gore took off for third base. Here he goes!

That’s Gore stealing third. Jason Castro’s throw arrived just ahead of Gore but it was to the foul side of the bag and, as you can see, Gore’s foot clearly got in ahead of the tag. The third base umpire agreed, calling Gore safe.

The Astros challenged the call, claiming that after Gore beat the throw he came off the base for a moment, during which third baseman Luis Valbuena tagged him. Therefore he should be out. Here is the first of two GIFs (thanks to Carson Cistulli!) showing Gore’s slide and the tag. In the first, there are two points at which it appears Valbuena’s glove makes contact with Gore. You can count them off while watching.

From that angle there’s no way you call Gore out, as Gore is clearly in contact with third base for both of Valbuena’s tags. But watch this, though.

Pay particular attention to Gore’s left foot. That’s the one that comes off the base for a split second. Did Valbuena tag Gore during that split second? It doesn’t appear so to me, but clearly the replay umpires in New York disagreed. I see two moments, one where Valbuena’s wrist might have touched Gore’s bottom while his foot wasn’t in contact with the base (according to the rules that shouldn’t qualify as a tag), and another split second where Valbuena’s glove might have touched Gore’s right foot while his left foot was off the base. I’ve watched this over 100 times at this point and I can’t definitively say whether it happened or not.

But here’s the thing: it shouldn’t matter.

We can talk about the play until we’re blue in the face and surely some of us will, but it occurs to me that this isn’t the way replay was intended to be used. This isn’t within the spirit with which it was implemented. Instant replay is, I believe, an important step for baseball and having it is a good thing. It makes no sense to have replay available for everyone to see except the people on the field charged with making the actual call, and that’s how it was until this system arrived. That’s how we got stuck with things like the 1985 World Series, Armando Galarraga’s imperfect perfect game, and Jeffrey Maier’s should-have-been interference. Those things shouldn’t have happened and today they wouldn’t happen because they’d be easily overturned on replay. That’s good. If an umpire blows a safe/out call or a fan interferes that should be and now will be corrected. That’s what replay should be for. That’s its spirit.

Whether Gore was really safe or out by the rules in place right now is both next to impossible to determine and incredibly boring and stupid. Clearly Gore beat the throw. If he came off the base, it was for a split second on accident (assuming he wasn’t pushed off, which some are claiming may have happened). But now instead of sighing at an amazing athletic achievement and moving on to the next play in a dramatic game, we’re subjected to a video breakdown of the play like something out of an NFL football game. Did he catch it? Did he make a football move? What is a catch? What is a football move? What the hell? This is insane, I’m going to mow the lawn.

Sadly, the implementation of replay has created an epidemic of these insanely specific calls. A player steals a base or reaches ahead of the throw in some manner, but his momentum takes him past or off the base where, upon intimate and minute review of a few of the millions of milliseconds of the play, it is determined that one or two of those milliseconds reveal the player having left the base while the tag was still on him.

After thinking this over, I’ve come up with three possible solutions to this problem.

  1. Allow base runners to over-slide the bag, or institute an automatic time out after the batter reaches the base — in other words, the time out every base thief calls for after the play ends would be called by rule immediately after the runner’s hand reaches the base. This way, if his hand comes off the base, it no longer matters because time was called by rule. This effectively makes it a race to the base but, after the base is touched, the play ends, unless the batter makes a clear attempt to move up to the next base.
  2. Or, a more extreme version: Allow base runners to overrun all the bases. Runners can overrun first base, but not second or third. Why is that? Allowing runners to run past bases would let them reach second or third more quickly and also remove any reason to slide, which would eliminate some injuries. Like first base, the play would end once the runner touches the base, provided he makes no attempt to go to the next base.
  3. Eliminate the challenge system. This whole situation is MLB’s fault for implementing the NFL’s replay system. We’re lucky the managers don’t have to throw flags onto the field, lest some third base coach find himself short an eye. If we don’t want to write down a system in the rulebook to protect runners from this type of Zapruder film-style of replay, then give the ability to look at plays to the replay umpires. Allow them to contact the crew chief when a play is potentially in dispute on their own, let them make the call, and then go on with the game.

Ultimately, the question we have to ask is, is this what we want? Maybe we do want to go by the exact letter of the rules as they are now and require a player to stay in contact with the base at all times no matter how fast he arrived and how difficult it is to maintain contact with the base at all times, but that seems to me to be an unreasonable standard that has never been applied before. It seems counter to the way baseball has been played. Turning the call into a simple “did he get to the base before the tag or didn’t he?” by implementing any of the above rule changes could go a long way to improving replay, as well as ridding us of these silly and painful replay situations.

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Oh man Kiley took job with Atlanta? Boooo!