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Seth Wenig/AP
Executive VP of baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon.

Reviewing Baseball’s Instant Replay System

May 15, 2009 07:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
Instant replay, which was used for the first time Wednesday night to overturn home run calls, has had little effect on the game since being implemented by MLB last August.

Replay Overturns Home Runs by LaRoche, Gload

Major League Baseball umpires in two separate games Wednesday night used replay to overturn home run calls, the first homers to be overturned since MLB instituted replay last August. The Pirates’ Adam LaRoche was awarded a ground rule double after replay showed his apparent home run ball had hit the fence, while the Marlins’ Ross Gload was called back to the batter’s box after his apparent homer was shown to be foul.

Both LaRoche and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said that they agreed with the reversals. “I thought maybe it had nicked the foul pole or something, but they got it right, I guess,” said Gonzalez. “It eliminates arguments. It eliminates managers getting thrown out of games for arguing, because you can always go to the replay.”

But Brewers manager Ken Macha, whose team benefited from the reversal of Gload’s home run, expressed his opposition to replay. He said that the umpires would have likely overturned the call even without the use of replay.

Players, managers and observers continue to be split on the use of replay in baseball, which was adopted to help ensure that potentially game-changing home run calls would be correct. However, replay has thus far had little effect on the game, as it has overturned just four calls, none of which were in a significant game.

Background: The implementation of replay

Last year, after years of debating the issue, MLB decided it was time to institute instant replay for reviewing home run calls. The decision was influenced in part by a week in May when Carlos Delgado, Alex Rodriguez and Geovany Soto all hit home runs that were incorrectly ruled foul or in play.

“I believe that the extraordinary technology that we now have merits the use of instant replay on a very limited basis,” said MLB commissioner Bud Selig. “The system we have in place will ensure that the proper call is made on home run balls and will not cause a significant delay to the game.”

The replay system has run fairly smoothly, with no major controversies in the roughly three and a half months it has been used. Including Wednesday’s game, it has now been used 14 times, with seven reviews in 2008 and seven this season. Though it was available in last year’s playoffs, no calls were reviewed.

Four calls have been overturned; last year the Rays’ Carlos Pena and the Giants’ Bengie Molina were each awarded home runs that had originally been ruled to be in play. The replay reversal on the Molina play caused a never-before-seen statistical oddity in which Molina was awarded a home run but not a run.

With a runner on first, Molina hit a deep drive that appeared to hit the right field wall and remain in play.  Molina reached first with a single and was immediately substituted for a pinch runner. The umpires then reviewed the play and ruled it a home run; however, because Molina had already been substituted, the pinch runner, Emmanuel Burriss, was forced to remain in the game and complete the home run trot. Molina was awarded a home run and two RBIs, but Burriss was given credit for scoring the run.

Just one replay review has caused a significant dispute, when umpires chose not to overturn a home run by the Yankees’ Jorge Posada that was touched by a fan near the top of the wall. The replay did not clearly show if the ball had passed over the wall when it was touched by the fan, and the umpires allowed the home run call to stand.

Reactions: Replay debate

Instant replay has been well-received by fans. An Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll released in April found that 80 percent of fans approved of replay, with 63 percent of fans calling for it to be expanded to review other calls, such as ball and strikes and calls on the basepaths.

The AP also reported that no umpires have expressed opposition to replay, saying that many feared of being remembered like Don Denkinger, an umpire famous for missing a crucial call at first base in the 1985 World Series.

But there are many traditionalists in baseball who object to the use of replay. Earlier this month Macha, after the Brewers were on the wrong end of a close call on the left field foul line, said that he would not like to see replay used to review the call.

After pointing out that many memorable plays included possibly incorrect calls, he said, “Just forget the instant replay. I’d rather just play the game. The game is played by human beings, as it is umpired by human beings.”

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