At some point in baseball’s future, we may see an umpire emerge from under his replay-challenge headset after a review and deliver the ruling over a microphone, while a packed ballpark sits rapt.
It could be a moment that packs considerable wallop, like when an NFL ref clicks on his mic to announce whether that tangle in the back of the end zone is a touchdown or not, adding to the excitement of being at the ballpark.
Major League Baseball might be open to the idea, though there are miles to go before we hear the dulcet tones of Hunter Wendelstedt or Fiedlin Culbreth. Nothing is imminent or even on the table, so right now it lives only in the theoretical, however intriguing it might be. MLB would have to negotiate the idea with umpires, clubs and the players union. They’d need to figure out how television broadcasts would handle it.
“The practice of making in-park replay announcements by the umpires has not been adopted to this point, largely because it could add another layer of timing to the process,” said a baseball source. Generally speaking, the person added, baseball is “always open to evaluating potential upgrades” and the powers-that-be have “not ruled out such a possibility for the future.”
Count this as a vote for hearing from the umpires directly, even though the ones on the field aren’t making the final decisions on reviews — the replay umps at MLB’s New York command center do that. But having the men in blue do it would add something to their role in the entertainment factor of the game. And, yes, they’re part of the show. Have you seen some of those awesome strike-three calls?
NFL referees like Ed Hochuli are used to speaking to the crowd.
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Also, it might streamline the dissemination of information about plays that can weigh heavily on games or seasons. Here’s how the process works now: There is a headset in every press box in every stadium where someone designated by the home team can hear the decision. The information then is shared from there.
Clubs can put it in a graphic on the scoreboard. Some make an announcement over the public-address system. Media relations directors make available the information to the press and MLB sends an email explaining the review to clubs, including the baseball operations office, and the television stations broadcasting the games. The email even includes how the status of a team’s remaining challenges is affected.
Having the ruling come from one voice, a voice of authority such as an umpire, no less, would give it more impact. If a television broadcast goes to a shot of an ump laying out the replay decision, it’s got much more meaning than the first-guess of a play-by-play man or analyst based on his or her view or slo-mo replays. It also makes it easier to clean up any wild theory on the play by a talking head.
By accepting replay the way they have, umpires have made it clear that their first priority is getting calls right and bravo to them. So you’d have to think that even a minor extra duty such as this would be embraceable. They’d have to get used to it, though, considering they don’t have to talk to the crowd at all when they’re advancing through lower levels, unlike their football counterparts.
What would happen if this conversation was mic’d?
(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Of course, it would all have to be done concisely and quickly, considering that time of game is something baseball’s bigwigs are following closely. So far this season, the average time of game is two hours, 59 minutes and five seconds through the first 894 nine-inning games. In the 2,209 nine-inning games last season, the average time was 2:56:14.
It’s trending in the right direction, though, considering that the average time of game has fallen from month-to-month. In the 172 games played so far in June, it’s 2:57:53.
But no one wants to add extra time to the process of review, so any changes to how replays are handled couldn’t make them longer. So there’s plenty of work to be done on umps and mics and how it might all work.
It may not seem like it, since we see challenges across the game every night, but baseball is still in the early stages of replay — Year Three. Like anything, it’ll evolve.
Let’s hope that one day it includes giving the umpires a voice from the field. They know the game’s rules better than anyone. Let them educate us on those key calls scrutinized every night.