Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  Major League Baseball announced last week that it intends to expand instant replay to review umpires’ decisions, as soon as next season. The plan would allow managers to make one challenge in the first six innings and two from the seventh inning on. If the manager’s challenge is correct on a play in the first six innings, he will retain his option to challenge future plays in those first six innings. If he loses the challenge, he won’t be able to challenge again until the seventh inning. An umpiring crew at MLB headquarters in New York will be ruling on the challenges. About 89 percent of the game’s plays would be reviewable. Umpires’ calls on balls and strikes, checked swings and obstruction would be among plays not reviewable. What are your thoughts?

-Dorr: I don’t like it. I’m OK with reviewing home runs, and maybe fair or foul calls, but 89 percent? That’s ridiculous. Even on fair or foul calls, placing the runners at what base they would have gotten to will be a problem. And if they think that it will speed up the game instead of slowing it down, they haven’t watched the NFL mess. And the NFL doesn’t always get it right when they do review. I just think it’s basically a bad idea for baseball. Let’s see if it’s approved.

-Marxhausen: It seems to me that Major League Baseball is trying to make everyone happy when it comes to the flaws in the game fans love so much. This season only the home run calls are reviewable and according to the MLB, 89 percent of those incorrect calls made in the past will be available to challenge by the manager. The remaining 11 percent fall into the plays that are not reviewable. MLB is hoping the option to challenge plays will result in the correct calls and reduce the tension that builds up over the course of the game between the umpires and the managers. In turn will this make the games longer? Is this finally going to push the average of each game over the three-hour mark? John Schuerholz, the Atlanta Braves’ president and member to the committee that proposed these changes, suggests that the replay now averages three minutes and four seconds, but will only take an average a minute and 15 seconds in the new system. So this is what it has come to, baseball and technology are finally starting to merge more and more. Part of me likes the idea of  “getting the calls right,” but the other part says that we are taking away what baseball used to be about with blown calls part of the game. Either way, I believe the owners, the players union and umpires union will allow this to pass and fans will just have to adapt to the new age of baseball.

-Larson:  Will the next step be a camera determining balls and strikes with a universal strike zone that is the same for every game? Umpires will make correct calls. Umpires will make lousy calls. That’s been part of baseball. How many views of a play will the umpire team in New York get to view? The more camera views they have to look at the longer the delay will be. I’ve seen many replays where one camera indicated a runner was out while another camera looking at that same play indicated a runner was safe. Leave replay the way it is now.

-Johnson: I think there is a place for instant replay in baseball but I’m not sure this is the best solution.  It seems a little bit over the top.  Major League Baseball has tried very hard to speed up the game in recent years and now they want to adopt what could be up to six or more delays in the game while checking in with New York for instant replays.  I think one instant replay (per team) a game may be more appropriate with the right to “earn” another one if the first is correctly challenged.  I also think that the only plays in addition to the home run challenge should be dropped/caught balls and fair/foul balls.  Whether a runner is safe or out shouldn’t be challenged because there would be too many challenges each game.  Another issue is where umpires decide to place runners in the event a challenge is successful.  For example, if a fly ball is mistakenly called a catch when it really hit the ground first and a runner on second base stays at second because of the call, what base is he entitled to?  How about the batter?  Do they account for their speed?  You start to get the picture of all of the “what ifs” regarding instant replay and the challenges they will have to hammer out.  

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Buffalo Bills 20-16 last Friday in Buffalo to drop to a 0-2 pre-season record. By most accounts, the Vikings followed their loss to Houston a week earlier with another uninspired, shabby performance. Minnesota continues exhibition play Sunday at San Francisco. Should the team, along with fans, be concerned about the Vikings’ play so far?

-Dorr: I didn’t see any of last Friday’s game and can only go by what I read about the game. It sounded as if they played poorly, what with blown assignments on the offensive line, a big dropped pass, a missed field goal, etc. Remember – Adrian Peterson hasn’t played yet and that changes the look of the team considerably. I didn’t quite understand the coach complaining about all-out blitzing by Buffalo – that’s part of the game, exhibition or not. If the team doesn’t look better against the 49ers, it might be time to be worried.

-Marxhausen: The pre-season is not the regular season. There is a reason they play the pre-season games for coaches and players alike. Wins and losses do not mean a thing when it comes to pre-season. There is not going to be trophy or an incentive to push teams to win preseason contests. Coaches need the pre-season because they need to trim their roster down to the maximum 53 and to see how the players react to live action. Players need to work on fundamentals and make sure they are able to execute plays when the regular season comes. What fans and the team should be worrying about is starting out slow like they did last year with a 6-6 record before Adrian Peterson pushed the way to the playoffs. With Percy Harvin now at the Seahawks, the Vikings are without a huge playmaker on offense, so big shoes need to be filled this season. Who is going to step up and make plays is the big question.

-Larson:  Sure, it’s pre-season, but a team that has ambitions of returning to the playoffs certainly should be looking better than the Vikings have so far. The quarterbacks and offensive line have been dismal. Hopefully, things will change this week.

-Johnson:  I saw just the first few series the Vikings had on Friday against the Bills where Christian Ponder and many of the others starters played.  My only concern was Ponder’s inability to move in the pocket.  We saw it way too much last year and it hasn’t gotten any better this year.  He was sacked twice Friday and in both plays he could have given himself more time by stepping up in the pocket. By doing this not only does he gain a few more seconds to throw, he also gains momentum going into his throw.  He doesn’t have the strongest arm to begin with so he needs all of his momentum moving forward and into his throws to “get something on them.”  Instead, he chooses to hang out deep in the backfield and get sacked. If Ponder continues to lack the pocket presence of a good quarterback, the Vikings better develop quick passing plays.  My hope is Adrian Peterson picks up where he left off last year and we won’t have to worry too much about our passing game.

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Do you have an opinion on this week’s question? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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