MLB Commisioner Bud Selig

Umpires Approve Instant Replay for Major League Baseball

August 21, 2008 11:35 AM
by Denis Cummings
Major League Baseball is likely to implement the use of replay by the end of the season, having signed an agreement Wednesday with the World Umpires Association.

Umps Approve Replay

Under the new replay policy, umpires will be able to review disputed home run calls. “The crew chief and two other umpires will go to a tv monitor hooked up to New York, see videotapes of calls fair or foul, on the pole, whether or not a fan reaches over the fence or if the ball hits on the line of demarcation,” WUA President John Hirschbeck told writer Murray Chass.

The umpires will make the final decision on all calls. MLB had pushed for officials stationed in New York to make the calls-similar to the NHL’s replay system—but the WUA would not agree.

MLB is in the process of wiring all 30 ballparks with the necessary video equipment. Video monitors are being installed in dugouts or near umpire dressing rooms, depending on the ballpark.

MLB has not given a specific date for the start of replay, but it is expected to begin within the next several weeks. It will be used for the final month of the season and the playoffs.

Background: General managers push for replay

Last November, MLB GMs voted 25-5 to begin investigating the possible use of replays. “We’ve taken the first step. The question will be now, what do we do?” said MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon. “We have glacier-like movement in baseball, so I’m hopeful that we can at least start meaningful discussions about it.”

The replay debate was reignited during a week in May when Carlos Delgado, Alex Rodriguez and Geovany Soto all hit home runs that were incorrectly ruled foul or in play. The Yankees and Astros made modifications to their ballparks to make judging home runs easier, but MLB pursued a thorough solution.

Later that week, Solomon reported that baseball would begin experimenting with replay. “The times are such that our fans are used to seeing all the high technology and they’re used to seeing the other sports that use these systems to make determinations, and the fans are clamoring for all the sports to look at that,” he said.

It called for replay to tested in the Arizona Fall League, but rumors surfaced in June that MLB would implement replay by Aug. 1.

Discussion between MLB and the WUA appeared to break down earlier this week, when umpires voted on Tuesday to boycott a conference call with MLB. They were reportedly upset with MLB’s proposal that official in New York would make the calls.

A day later, MLB agreed to let umpires make the calls and the agreement was signed.

Historical Context: The replay debate

The replay debate isn’t new to baseball. In the 1985 World Series, a clear missed call at first base may have cost the Cardinals a championship. The following year, the NFL implemented replay with moderate success. In 1987, New York Times columnist Dave Anderson argued for instant replay: “Baseball has accepted two high-tech horrors that detract from the game, artificial surfaces and domed stadiums. But the commissioner won't accept a high-tech tool, instant replay, that would help to produce correct calls and the correct World Series winner.”

Baseball’s proposed replay system would not apply to calls on the base paths, it would not have helped the Cardinals. It would have helped the Orioles, who lost Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS after 12-year-old fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall and knocked Derek Jeter’s line drive into the stands. The right field umpire incorrectly ruled it was a home run.

“Baseball has erred as grievously as Jose Offerman in not bending technology to fit its pastoral game,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber. “If integrated judiciously, instant replay would prevent injustices such as the one suffered by the Orioles.”

In 2004, the general managers split 15-15 on a vote to explore replay. The lack of interest in replay may have been caused by two calls in the 2004 ALCS that umpires correctly overturned. “Had they gotten those calls wrong, would there have been more interest in pursuing instant replay? There might've been,” said MLB executive vice president Sandy Alderson.

Opinion & Analysis: Should baseball use replay?’s Hal Bodley believes that it’s time to implement replay. “I’ve always been staunchly opposed to replay,” he writes. “As a purist, it troubles me to think baseball might introduce technology that will detract from the human element. But if a minimum use of video replay makes the game better, I must reluctantly say it should be tried. I would hate to see a team miss the postseason in a close race because it lost a game it would have won had a legitimate home run not been taken away.”

The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck agrees, believing that replay should be instituted to prevent plays like the 1996 Jeffrey Maier play. “Video technology has advanced to the point where the outcome of a key regular-season game or a big playoff series should not have to turn on an obvious umpiring error,” he writes.

Terence Moore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution objects to replay, arguing that the occasional missed call is a part of the game’s charm. He writes, “breath-to-breath squabbles between umpires, managers, coaches and players are as much of the game’s soul as the seventh-inning stretch, the national anthem and a box of Cracker Jack.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Ray Ratto proposes that MLB instead use outfield umpires for all games and remodel outfield walls to make home runs easier to identify. “So this is our fix—make the job simpler,” he writes. “Use a little creativity, a little common sense and a little extra manpower. The purist gets his, the stickler for accuracy gets his and the only people harmed are people who bitch about yesterday's games for a living.”

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