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February 26, 2014

Will instant replay settle baseball's furies?

There’s something about seeing a manager storm from the dugout and take aim at an umpire.

Arms go flailing, dirt gets kicked up, and language unfit for a barroom spews. Maybe a base is pulled from the ground and lobbed so that it resembles a UFO. The violator of baseball’s decorum is ejected from the game, then immediately repeats the choreographed routine.

It’s great drama and fun, unless you happen to be the umpire who is the object of the abuse.

Will this summer’s theatrics be different? Will on-field arguments be replaced by mild-mannered requests to invoke Major League Baseball's instant replay? I mean, what’s the sense of yelling? A group of umpires will be holed up in an office tower in New York City waiting to correct a possible injustice.

Baseball is a sport that takes tradition seriously. While other leagues have turned to technology to improve on the human factor, the Grand Old Game is just now embracing change in a serious way.

Here’s how the new rule works: Each manager gets one challenge per game. Should he ask for a review and win, he gets to use the challenge again. Once it's gone, an umpire can choose to double-check any reviewable play after the sixth inning.

Managers can challenge an array of calls - home runs, fan interference, touching a base or a disputed catch in the outfield, to name a few. Managers will not be allowed to (officially) question a called ball or strike.

If those in the dugout thought there was pressure to make strategic decisions -- such as whether to go to the bullpen early or insert a pinch-hitter – this will give pundits and patrons another avenue of second-guessing. The manager better be right in ordering a review. If he’s wrong, it will be as if he looked at a called third strike with the bases loaded in a one-run game.

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