So, Colorado Rockies fans, there’s a rumor out there that Major League Baseball is considering giving microphones to the umpires so that they can announce the replay decisions in the stadiums—kind of like football. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a traditionalist, except when I’m not, so I figure I’ll chuck my two cents in the corner and say I disagree with this idea. Why?
Because it doesn’t go far enough!
Baseball isn’t football. When a flag in football is thrown or a replay is called, a guy dressed in a zebra suit steps out to the center of the field, gets the attention of about 80,000 or so onlookers, and says in short choppy sentences what the ruling is.
But baseball’s rules are paragraphs long. For comparison’s sake, the 2016 NFL definition of a catch in football is 153 words long. The 2016 MLB definition of a catch is over twice as long, clocking in around 330. Baseball spends three pages alone on balk rules. The point I am trying to make is that baseball rules have a lot of definition with little left over to umpire interpretation compared to football.
If you just say what the ruling is without describing the rule, you really don’t help the fans understand what happened. Though baseball fans might like hearing Vin Scully talk about baseball, even country singer/major league umpire Joe West might lull people to sleep discussing the specifics of runner interference.
That’s also assuming you can hear what he’s saying over the scoreboard noise and the fans sitting next to you.
Then you have the problem that any explanation of a ruling would have to happen after a ruling is made. So you’re still waiting around the “recommended” two minutes for a decision before that explanation arrives. That might be fine if you’re at home on your television, but if you’re at the park, you’re probably wondering why all the play stopped. Giving microphones to umpire doesn’t address the “dead time” before the replay ruling is decided on. So, let’s use that inactive time in a way that’s fun and informative for fans and helps to build baseball’s brand.
I’ve tailored these Mile High ideas to games at Coors Field. Yeah, the ideas might be outlandish, but that’s the point. Some of these ideas I wouldn’t even call semi-serious. But maybe something similar will give you an idea to suggest to a Major League Baseball Park near you.
Use the technology you have!
Instead of having an ump mumble on a mic, why not send a text to all the lovely Rockies fans out there? Flash a number on the scoreboard for fans to text that sends them the rule in return. Teams could even send them a video clip of the play in question. Not only would it teach the fans more about the game, but it could also add them to the team’s text message list and send them future promotional offers. Maybe even toss in a coupon for an MLB.tv subscription. I call that an educated upsell opportunity!
What about using what’s already there? Fans can already hear Jack Corrigan and Jerry Schemmel calling the game on the concourse and in the club level. Why not pipe their audio through to the stadium’s speakers during replays instead of giving an umpire a mic? They are more familiar with explaining things so that listeners can understand. While the umpires are conferring with their replay colleagues, Corrigan and Schemmel can walk fans through the rules and the replay shown on the scoreboard. Maybe fans will start listening to the radio more, which could even increase advertising revenue for the station and draw fans to the baseball park itself. Just please, don’t bring back those bulky radio-embedded baseball caps from the 80s!
Use the fanbase you have!
Now, all of that may help educate fans, but there’s also an opportunity to get the fans involved and keep them entertained. While people are staring at their phones and reading the reviews or watching the replay, tell them to text in whether they think the play went for or against the Rockies. If the fans agree with the umpires, maybe they’ll get a free coupon for a free Something from the Official Something Vendor of the Colorado Rockies. If the call goes against the Rockies, the center field fountain can spit out some water in disgust.
We can even take it a step further. Teams can even interview fans while the replay is going on about what they think the call should be and why. Risky? It’s worked on the People’s Court. Can it be any riskier than challenging fans to rattle off as many types of steak as they can in ten seconds to win a prize?
We can even get our Rooftop friends, eyes glued to the beer in their hand before every pitch, involved. If a call goes in the Rockies favor, they get a free shot at a cornhole prize board. And for the fortunate few that rented one of the cabanas, they get a free temple massage because realizing there is a baseball game going on might tax the brain and lead to wrinkles.
Use the (zebra) suit you have!
Ok, ok, Dinger ain’t a zebra. But if part of the problem with replay is that it interferes with the pace of play, why not let our dinosaur mascot add some action to the affair? The Purple Jersey Flinger already crouches behind home plate during the ninth inning, so it’s not like they never react to the game. They could stand over near the umpires and just stare at them. Or maybe Dinger can just spin its head around and around. Either way, it adds some life to the waiting game. If whoever inside the suit is athletic and carries decent medical insurance, maybe they can reenact the play being reviewed, whether it’s sliding into second base or diving into the stands for a foul ball. Bonus points if they can tease one of the opposing players to participate San Diego Chicken style.
Let’s not forget the kid demographic, who are probably paying more attention to the game than many adults but still might think the rule description sounds too much like school. Perhaps Dinger can grab a few children to run to first base. Studies have probably not shown that the average ten year old might make it from home plate to first base in less than thirty seconds. That should be well within our two minute replay window. We already do the Groundskeeping Challenge between innings, so it can be done, and if the kids roam too far, there’s always security. There are other options for replay delay promotions too. I can just hear the PA announcement now, “Fans, if the Colorado Rockies issue a replay challenge this inning and win it, one lucky fan will win a free eye exam!”
Ok, maybe that went too far, but the possibilities are there for the Rockies.
So, a word to the wise. If MLB is going to change how replays are handled, try to do it correctly. Think up ways to keep fans educated and entertained while the replay is happening and not just afterwards. To the teams, this is almost like free commercial time that you can use to spread your brand to a captive audience. And who knows, maybe those fans will learn to enjoy baseball and its replays even more.