The Minnesota Twins would have liked to have replay back in 2009. It's a while ago now, but most baseball fans in the Twin Cities remember Game 2 of the AL Division Series that year against the New York Yankees when Joe Mauer hit a ball that was clearly fair and would have scored two runners with the bases loaded, only to have it called foul. ESPN's Dave Schoenfield called it one of the five worst umpiring calls in baseball history. Yes, they were wearing different uniforms, playing in a different stadium and, well, winning more games than they lost back then, but this memory is still fresh in the minds of many Twins fans..
The fact that left field ump Phil Cuzzi, who was only standing a couple feet away from where the ball landed, blew the call was instantly visible to anyone watching the game that night. The ball was obviously fair and although it was at the top of the inning, it was unlikely that the Yankees would have won the game in the bottom frame.
Although the ball was fair, it's difficult to whole-heartedly blame Cuzzi in this situation -- he's human. He may have been standing close to the action, but the ball dropped in an instant and Melky Cabrera may have blocked some of his vision. The bottom line is that it shouldn't have mattered: An instant replay would have shown the umpiring crew that the ball was foul almost immediately and he would have been overruled.
Replay, at its core, is a necessity. If a fan sitting at home can tell that a ruling is incorrect, it should be overturned, preventing a blown call from ruining a perfect game or a team's chance of winning a playoff series. The problem is that replay can become cumbersome and start to affect the game in ways that should be prevented.
While the Twins would have liked to have Mauer's opposite field hit replayed in 2009, the same review system has gotten in their way five years later. Starting pitcher Kevin Correia was pulled from a quality start against the Chicago White Sox because of instant replay in his first start this season. Manager Ron Gardenhire used his first challenge of the year to overturn a ruling on a catch by White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and won it, but by the time the umpires were looking at the play, Correia was already cold and Gardenhire decided to remove him from the game.
In his second start of the season, Correia was once again victim of instant replay when a ball originally called foul was replayed to see if it was a home run. It turned out it wasn't, and Correia and other Twins players, including Chris Colabello who was in right field that day, thought it was clearly foul. Biased? Maybe, but it looked foul all the way on television. It wasn't like the Mauer call where the announcers instantly knew the call was wrong. Correia was having a rough day anyway, but the replay didn't help his cause at all. "It would have been nice if it was a little quicker," says Correia, "but that wasn't even a new replay rule, that was one we had last year so it's just something we'll have to get used to." Gardenhire echoed his pitcher's sentiment, saying that while it's important to get things right, the whole process needs to speed up.
"I don't like it stopping the game: That's two times we've been involved with it so I don't like that part of it," he says, "but the ultimate goal is to get it right. It's not working yet, as far as the quick part of it goes, but we're supposed to get it right."
The most difficult part of it, at least for the manager, is figuring out which calls can be challenged and when he can just ask the umpires to take another look. After the sixth inning, managers are no longer able to challenge calls and the umpiring crew will initiate all replays. But managers are allowed to ask umpires to give a play a second look, just to be sure. This, of course, creates a difficult situation: managers want to reduce the amount of times they have to officially challenge a play because if they are wrong, they lose it, but at the same time they want to ensure that they are not victim of a bad call.
It also creates confusion on plays that cannot be challenged, but are reviewable. For example, a foul-tip cannot be challenged, even if a catch in the field can. "It's not a reviewable play, [but] they can look at it," says Gardenhire of the foul-tip. "They can look at it. It's not challengeable, I don't think, but you can ask them to look at it and get help." So how is a catcher dropping a ball and a fielder dropping a ball any different? Well, managers find themselves confused there too.
"Well, that's our argument," he says referring to a specific foul-tip on Wednesday. "He caught the ball, there was no play being made anywhere. He caught it in his glove, turned it back and then dropped it. He caught the ball. There was no play being made anywhere." He went on to explain that there are multiple plays that can and can't be challenged and there is a laminated sheet that he keeps at his desk in his office explaining the official rules, but there are many grey areas.
Why, for example, can he not challenge a warning given by the umpires? When closer Glen Perkins got into it with Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics and each bench was given a warning after each dugout cleared and entered the field, nobody actually got in a fight, everyone just danced around. Why was an official warning issued then? "Can I challenge that?" Gardenhire said of the incident, which took place Wednesday. "That's what I asked [the umpires], and I'm serious. Why would you throw a warning on that? Nothing happened." He couldn't use a challenge because the incident took place after the sixth inning and it wasn't a challengeable play anyways.
That may seem trivial, but what about a situation with the new rules about collisions at the plate. When can he use a challenge? Can he avoid using a challenge by just asking the umpires to look at the replay? Does it matter if it takes place in the first inning or the ninth? "Plays at the plate, can you ask them, 'I think he blocked the plate?' Or do you ask them, 'I think he was safe, you called him out?'" pondered Gardenhire. If you ask one way, the umpires may think you are inquiring about subjectivity (Was the catcher blocking the plate?); asked another way, it may be interpreted as a question of where the tag was applied (Was the runner safe?). It's all semantics, but when a run is on the line, this becomes very important.
"I thought the best part about [instant replay] was they were showing the replays on the big board," he says, referring to a rule that allows controversial calls to be replayed on the jumbotron while the umpires are communicating with New York. "The fans were all involved and they were oohing and aahing."
In time this will work itself out. With a fan's ability to watch just about every game in high-definition and see replays over and over again, it makes no sense to allow an umpire's error to influence the outcome of a big situation. Everyone will have to be patient and allow this to work itself out, but in the mean time, confusion around replay can be frustrating. "Why do you think I've been thrown out of 67 games?" Gardenhire asked rhetorically. "There's a reason."
Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.