Adding fifth umpire is the easy part

A friend writes:

    Watching the Cub game ... Len and Bob are in favor of replay and propose adding a fifth man to each umpiring crew, who would review plays from the press box and quickly relay his call back to the crew chief.

    I think this is a fine idea, and while we're at it, the 5th umpire should be the official scorer for the games. If we're going to count errors, someone impartial might as well do the counting.

    It seems a backlash has, at long last, developed against the standard argument (if you can call it that) against the use of replay -- that it would take away "the human element." The human element will always exist, so long as there are humans playing and watching the games. Which there won't be in fifty years, because of the robotpocalypse. Mark my words.*

    Anyway, let's get the ball rolling on the 5th umpire/official scorer idea.**


    * In your heart, you know I'm right.

    ** By "get the ball rolling," I mean "Rob, write about this in your blog."

Well, yes: Eventually we'll have more video review, and the new system will probably include an umpire, or perhaps ex-umpire, in the booth. You'll probably want someone with a great deal of experience up there, simply because a young umpire might be reluctant to overrule a veteran's call on the field.

That's the easy part.

The hard part is figuring out exactly how this thing would work. Or figuring out how it would work, close enough that you don't wind up with chaos on the field for a few weeks while you're working the bugs out.

Essentially, three things should happen before a significant expansion of video review.

First, somebody needs to make a list of every play that can happen in a baseball game -- I mean, literally every play that's happened in, say, the last two or three years -- and then figure out the ramifications if an umpire's call was reversed.

This is not a small project.

Second, somebody needs to figure out which plays can be reversed without being terribly unfair to one of the teams. Sure, they can just start with plays at first base ... but are those even so simple? Let's imagine a close play at first base, and the runner's called out. But for whatever reason a baserunner heads for third base, and the first baseman throws wildly and the runner scores. But, pray tell, what do you do with the batter-runner if the call at first base is reversed? Do you leave him at first base? Do you give him second base?

Probably. But this is a relatively simply situation. Given a little more thought (and another baserunner or two) we could probably come up with all sorts of tricky questions. And eventually you'll need to come up with an answer for every one of them. And with the answers, a set of rules stipulating when video review is practical and when it's not.

Third, you need to test everything. Whether you do this testing in Triple-A or the Arizona Fall League or in Royals-Orioles games, I don't know. But there's little reason to jump into this thing without using the tools at your disposal.

You know me. You know I'm usually among the last to compliment the Lords of Baseball and their best-paid employee. You might remember that I thought it took far too long to employ video review on disputed home runs. But the next step isn't nearly as easy as everyone seems to think, and I would rather see MLB get it right next year than wrong this year.