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posted: 8/18/2013 12:01 AM

Instant replay progress needs some tweaking

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  • If baseball wants to move ahead with instant replay next season, Matt Spiegel would like to see a fifth umpire added at each stadium instead of waiting for a review from MLB headquarters.

      If baseball wants to move ahead with instant replay next season, Matt Spiegel would like to see a fifth umpire added at each stadium instead of waiting for a review from MLB headquarters.
    Associated Press

 
 

It's just not this complicated, but the MLB executive committee is making it so.

Instant replay must be instituted. Umpires can't be allowed to make the wrong calls when technology makes them so easily disproven by fans on their couches.

And replay is coming next year -- but with a challenge system? Now a manager has even more on his plate, and the central office in NYC will have to keep tabs on 14 or 15 games at once.

This is overthinking a simple solution.

There should be a fifth umpire at each game, upstairs in a press box, watching the same video feed we all get. If the press-box ump sees a call that's clearly wrong, he calls down to correct it. If a field ump needs help, he calls up to get it.

That fifth member of the crew could rotate to ensure he's accepted as a respected teammate, not some eye-in-the-sky adversary threatening credibility and reputation.

I bet most umps would welcome a press-box day once a week or so.

The plan currently up for discussion has several trouble spots, and hopefully a healthy debate will work through them.

Ryno's chance, finally:

I've yet to encounter anyone who doesn't feel good for Ryne Sandberg. He finally gets his opportunity in Philadelphia to be a big-league manager.

It's rare to find a Hall of Fame player who tediously climbs his way up through the minors, eventually proving his managerial merit in the face of doubts.

Sandberg deserves this shot.

He'd best impress, as Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. outlined Friday. These last 40 games are an audition.

But Amaro also could be out at season's end. The Phillies' roster is chaotic, and their farm system thin.

Amaro strangely passed on the chance to be a seller at the trade deadline, even with marketable players who are about to be free agents.

The next guy may not know or care about Ryne Sandberg. But if the important players respond well and the Phillies win a few games, he could force a longer look.

Cubs fans wishing Sandberg well can do so in person starting Aug. 30 when the Phillies come to Wrigley.

What an odd interaction that series will offer. The favorite player of so many, passed over by the last two regimes, returns as the boss of a rival.

Don't take the chants personally, Dale Sveum.

Why are the best so good?

A terrific new book, "The Sports Gene" by David Epstein, sheds a lot of light on what makes great hitters who they are.

It's not just reaction time, as testing showed ballplayers were not necessarily more special than others. It's not just practice and those proverbial "10,000 hours." It's not just vision, though that's a huge component and commonality.

Epstein writes that most brains of elite athletes perform the task of "chunking," in which large quantities of information are unconsciously grouped into a smaller number of meaningful chunks.

A hitter learns to follow "anticipatory cues" before a pitch is even released.

Then, as a skill like making contact is repeated in concerted practice, the brain begins to automate and allow activity "without thinking."

"The Sports Gene" is a great read, with studies on chess masters, African distance runners, Jamaican sprinters and much more.

But the sections on how the very best hitters in baseball had no chance when facing softball pitcher Jennie Finch are especially fascinating.

Hitting at its best is pure learned magic. And some are more genetically disposed to it than others.

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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