The White Sox will finally get their first look at getting another look when they play the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday. The game will be live on MLB Network at 3 p.m. Central, which means enough cameras will be on hand to make expanded instant replay available to managers.
In anticipation of the new challenge system, the White Sox field staff posted a cheat sheet of plays that can be reviewed.
Of course, the Tampa Bay Rays have been taking it a step further.
Back when the challenge system began to take shape, I assumed that Rays manager Joe Maddon would be studying the system for weaknesses. Sure enough, evidence of the Rays' first response emerged in the form of "extra out" mechanics on both ends of the inning:
So that's why the Rays infielders were doing a drill Wednesday where, with a runner on second and a ground ball hit, they got what theoretically was the third out of an inning at first base, but they threw home anyway to potentially get another out.
Maddon's premise? That if the call at first was reviewed and that runner was ruled safe, that continuing the play to the plate could lead to the other runner being called out to still end the inning, or at least sent back to third when the umpires decide on placement since he would have been out.
When the Rays are on the bases, Maddon will have them go hard around third in that situation, trying to score or get close enough to be awarded home for the potential of an extra run.
Runner placement is the first angle that the Rays are poking, with Maddon and Evan Longoria talking to umps to find out how umpires might view certain plays, should it come down to their judgment.
There's also this:
Maddon is also soliciting ideas from players and staff, saying reliever Brandon Gomes came to him with a possible nuance he's eager to explore: "It was righteous."
Hopefully Robin Ventura and his staff are doing the same this spring, even though the early returns aren't rewarding the managers.
So far, all challenged calls have been upheld. A New York Times article said that umpires were 8-for-8 in challenged calls through Friday. Since then, I found six more challenges this weekend, but none of them were successful, either. Ventura's counterpart on Monday, Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke, liberally exercised his new right on Saturday ... and went 0-for-3. On Sunday, Arizona's Kirk Gibson and San Diego's Bud Black lost a challenge apiece.
But the umpires' perfect record should have an asterisk. Roenicke said one of his challenges -- a hit-by-pitch that wasn't -- would've been captured with better cameras, and opposing manager Ned Yost agreed with him.
Moreover, Reds manager Bryan Price ran into a more egregious shortcoming with spring camerawork on Sunday during his inaugural challenge on a close play at second. Second base umpire Jim Reynolds said that Los Angeles' Hank Conger slid safely under a high tag by Cincinnati shortstop Ramon Santiago.
Price came out to challenge the call, and that's when he encountered a flaw in the preseason setup:
After conferring, the umpires on the field sent it to [replay official Gerry] Davis in the truck to review the play. Davis was working with four different camera angles, -- all from static cameras and none with zooming capabilities -- and after a delay of two minutes and 15 seconds, ruled there wasn't conclusive evidence to overturn the call. Only after that was made official, did Davis get the fifth angle, the one that was shown on TV.
"It was an umpire's nightmare," said Randy Marsh, MLB's Director of Major League Umpires and a Northern Kentucky resident. "With that view, they would have flipped the call, but they didn't get it until it was over."
During the regular season, all replays will be handled at a central office in New York, where umpires will have at least 12 different camera angles, all with zooming capabilities, for every game.
Since it's only the spring, Price said the outcome wasn't as important as getting to understand the process of a challenge.
"One thing that was terrific was that they converged first to make sure you don't unnecessarily use a challenge if one of the umpires had a better vantage point, a clearer vantage point and can overturn the call before using the challenge. That puts the onus on the other manager if he wants to challenge and then turn around that call. Pretty interesting stuff. It was good to have an opportunity to utilize it."
There will probably be more bumps like these as the system encounters plays it's not optimized for, but it could be fun to see the game within the game that develops.
Scott Reifert says the White Sox will have eight other replay-available games after Monday, so Ventura won't have to get it right immediately. He may still be a bit behind some of his peers, though The Sox chose to wait until the second half of spring to bring out the full broadcast crew, so they've played under the old-school rules thus far. Teams with more robust broadcast schedules (the Twins are one) hold a head start over the Sox in this regard, although with only 14 calls across both the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues, it probably won't be much of one.
Hopefully Ventura gets at least one opportunity during this time to test out a neighborhood play at second. Besides the third-out letup the Rays are working to reverse, the act of fielders avoiding baserunners might be the hardest on-field habit to change.