Frank Coonelly: Replay System May Not Increase Game Length

Frank Coonelly Pittsburgh Pirates
Team President Frank Coonelly does not agree that MLB’s new challenge system will make games longer.

Major League Baseball’s planned challenge system for controversial calls will not necessarily make games longer, according to Pirates president Frank Coonelly.

Cutting down long-winded arguments between managers and umpires is part and parcel to the replay system MLB unveiled earlier this month, likely to be implemented for the 2014 season. Home-plate umpires will have “quick communication” with the instant replay command center in New York City to review up to six manager’s challenges each game, Coonelly told Pirates Prospects in a one-on-one interview.

“They can see all the replays quickly, because they have all the technology in front of them, all the TV screens,” Coonelly said. “If the manager goes out and argues the call, you’ve lost your right to review it. Secondly, once the call is reviewed, and the decision is made, you cannot argue that.”

MLB executives underwent a three-year planning process to expand instant replay, which will make about 89 percent of previously wrong calls reviewable, Coonelly said. The Commissioner’s Office studied current replay systems like the NHL’s goal review as well as tennis’ and the NFL’s challenge systems.

Coonelly was a proponent of umpires reviewing calls in a state-of-the-art New York command center, rather than installing replay booth in all 30 ballparks, calling it “more effective and efficient.” He also revealed one proposed aspect of the system, yet to be finalized, that would allow replays to be shown on stadium scoreboards after a manager has challenged the call.

“Let’s stop this fallacy that if we put instant replay of a controversial call up on the board, it’s going to cause rioting with respect to the umpire,” Coonelly said. “[Fans are] frustrated when they know at home they could have seen a controversial play at second base 10 times on instant replay, yet they look up on the board and why is it not on the board?”

Other Replay Takeaways

Umpire Jerry Meals said his 2011 safe call of Julio Lugo was "incorrect" after he looked at video.
Umpire Jerry Meals said his 2011 safe call of Julio Lugo was “incorrect” after he looked at video.

— Coonelly specifically cited the Jerry Meals decision of 2011 as a play fans saw “on their TVs that they know that the call is wrong.” Reversing calls like that one, a play at home which caused the Pirates to lose the 19-inning game in Atlanta, has been a priority for the team’s front office.

“Let’s get it right,” Coonelly said. “Let’s stop frustrating our fans.”

— Much of Coonelly’s notion that the replay system will not increase game length centers around (1) reducing often-fruitless manager arguments with umpires and (2) each team gets only three challenges.

“I think it’s going to eliminate some, not all [arguments],” Coonelly said. “We do like managers getting hot and bothered and having some entertaining discussions with umpires.”

— The Pirates president supports the planned replay system. Coonelly has regularly communicated with Peter Woodfork, MLB’s Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations and a former employee of Coonelly’s in the Commissioner’s Office. Though Coonelly does not “want to overstate” how much influence he has had on the overall proposal, items he supported like the central command center were eventually adopted.

Manager Clint Hurdle has not yet looked at the replay rules in detail yet. “We’ve got an entire winter to work through it,” Hurdle said. The manager will talk to Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington, as well as ask questions to Joe Torre, MLB’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations.

— MLB studied hundreds of close plays over “a relatively significant time period” while forming the replay plan. About 11 percent of the wrong calls will not be challengeable under the new system. Examples of non-reviewable calls: hit-by-pitches and ground balls that bounce over or near a base to move from fair to foul.

“We’ll get them done quickly, and we’ll eliminate some of the arguing that goes on and the delay that they take,” Coonelly said. “We want the games to be decided on the field based on player performance as opposed to based on a call that was missed.”

A proposal is only as interesting as its likelihood of becoming reality. Does Coonelly think MLB’s plan will become the rule of baseball in 2014?

“You never count your chickens before they’re hatched, but it’s gotten this far with very strong support internally,” Coonelly said. “And I believe that the umpires are supportive as well.

“At the end of the day, the umpires want to get the calls right too.”

Tomorrow on Pirates Prospects: President Coonelly talks about PNC Park’s plans for the playoffs, where seat prices will go next season and what the plans are for the Pirates’ 2014 Major League payroll.
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Is cave skip bayless in disguise??

Also, looking forward to tomorrow’s column.

Cave Bonifield


The beauty and poetry of baseball is in danger.

What makes this game special is not it’s perfection but its flaws.
Even with replay there will always be controversy, there will always be mistakes, one side will always feel mistreated.
Satisfaction will never be achieved, contentment not attained.
Fans will still leave the ballpark wondering, umpires will still be criticized, managers second guessed.
In seeking truth, owners will find deception masking itself as clarification.

Part of the beauty of baseball is its similarity to day to day living.
We win, we lose, we make good decisions, we make bad ones and we live by them with the inherited consequences.
Rarely do we get a mulligan.
Life is not run through a DVR, we don’t get to pause, there is no rewind, replays don’t exist.

Lest we forget, baseball is but a game.
The further we get from that truth, the closer we get to its institutionalization.
It will cease to be a game played on sunny days in a vacant lot and instead be one played on asphalt parking lots.
It will no longer be played by kids at recess, but by adults in boardrooms.
The game will become meaningless, the result will be all that matters.
We are replacing popcorn with sushi, cracker jack with trail mix, peanuts with politically correct calls on the field.

Please save our game, leave it alone.
Leave it unspoiled by the grimy fingers of the hands of time.
Keep it flawed,
Keep it perfect.

Cave Bonifield


Cave, with you on the case, we can’t possibly lose the poetry of baseball.

Of course there’s a big diiference between baseball and everyday life. I don’t have a self-important guy in a blue uniform judging everything I do all day. If I did, I’d like him to get the important things right.


Im also curious to see replay in one aspect of the game too. The “neighborhood” play that middle infielders get on double plays could get really diced up with replays.


Interesting point. I’d think managers would handle it like they do now: not challenge the “routine” turn, but challenge if a bad throw pulls the SS/2B off the bag. But at some point there’ll probably be a manger the doesn’t respect they way it’s been done for years and challenges a “routine” one, maybe late in a close and important game.


My problem with the rule is the same problem I have with the NFL version. You should have unlimited challenges if you are right and until you are denied. What if they make two really bad calls before the 6th inning?


I thought your challenge was restored if the call is overturned in your favor. Isn’t that basically unlimited challenges as long as you’re right all of the time?

IC Bob

For the rule but it seems like three review challenges is a bit much for each manager.

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