Limited instant replay debuts Thursday
New system will help umpires decide on close home run calls
Major League Baseball will institute the use of instant replay on Thursday to determine disputed home run calls -- fair or foul, in or out of the ballpark, fan interference -- Commissioner Bud Selig announced on Tuesday.The system, which has been under study since this past November when the general managers voted 25-5 to explore its use, will launch on Thursday when Minnesota opens a four-game series at Oakland, Texas is in Anaheim to play the Angels, and the Phillies are at Wrigley Field to play the Cubs. Since it was determined that the use of replay should start when a series opens, it will be in use for all games beginning with Friday's action. Musing that implementing replay was really not like dealing with "Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity,'" the Commissioner said the apropos time to move ahead with it was now. "I believe this is right," Selig said during a late afternoon conference call unveiling the new system. "I think the umpires believe it. I think the players believe it. The evidence [for using it] became overwhelming the more I looked at ballparks. You've got an umpire running out and he's 300-400 feet away, and it became impossible [for him to make the right call]. I'm delighted we're able to make this adjustment. "As you well know, anytime you try to change things in baseball, it's both emotional and difficult, but this [decision] everyone really thought was in the sport's best interest. And that's why I made it."
As far as the players go, the Players Association put out a press release just at the start of the conference call saying that the union had signed off on the system at least for the end of the 2008 regular season and postseason. Like the umpires, who agreed to the plan last week, both unions have reserved the right to revisit it during the offseason."If further bargaining is not requested," the release said in part, "this agreement will remain in effect for the balance of the current Basic Agreement, through the 2011 season." "Following the World Series, the players will review the matter, and then determine what course to take for the future," Don Fehr, the long-time director of the union, said. "While the use of instant replay is an experiment, we hope that over the balance of this season it will prove to be a success."
Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, confirmed during the call that both unions have an opportunity to re-address the issue this offseason, if necessary."But I want to emphasize that it really is our expectation that those talks will be about refinement rather than any significant changes," he said. As far as the process in concerned, all televised MLB games will be monitored and staffed by an expert technician and either an umpire supervisor or a former umpire at Major League Baseball Advanced Media headquarters in New York. A television monitor and a secure telephone link to MLB.com, placed next to the monitor, have been installed during the past few weeks at every Major League ballpark. The positions vary. Some are located in dugouts and others are near the umpires' dressing quarters. Bob Bowman, the chief executive of MLB.com, noted that the Chelsea location has handled video feeds of every game -- recording them and capturing them -- for a number of years. They've also been streamed live on the Internet. Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said MLB is taking advantage of that technology. "We're going to look at all broadcast feeds that are available," Solomon said. "There will be different camera angles at times and a different number of feeds, but we will use every available feed that we can get." If the crew chief determines that instant replay review is necessary on a particular disputed home run, then he will call the MLB.com technician, who will transmit the most appropriate video footage to the crew chief and the umpire crew on site. The umpire supervisor or former umpire will not have direct communication with any of the umpires on site. The decision to reverse a call will be at the sole discretion of the crew chief. The standard used by the crew chief when reviewing a play will be whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the umpire's decision on the field was incorrect and should be reversed. Once instant replay review is invoked, whether or not the call has been reversed, neither club will be permitted to further argue the decision. A player, manager or coach who continues to argue will be treated in the same manner as one who argues balls and strikes and subject to ejection from the game. Any decision regarding the placement of runners, should a home run call be reversed, will be made by the crew chief. As is done in cases of fan interference, the crew chief will place the baserunners where he believes they would have been had the call been made properly. Selig said that that he doesn't anticipate this process leading to long interruptions of games. "I happen to believe that it's been wired so efficiently that you will have no more delay than when umpires had to reconvene and didn't have anything to go by to discuss the thing," he said. "I really believe that this will not lengthen games, but if we're efficient in handling it, it could actually shorten the games a little bit." The eight owners who sit on the executive council along with Selig were briefed about this replay plan two weeks ago at the quarterly owners meetings in Washington. The full body of executives heard the same details the next day. It was not an action item on the agenda and a vote by the 30 clubs was not necessary. Selig, in his capacity as MLB's chief executive, had the power to move forward and implement it on his own because there's no rule change. It was also the GMs who determined this past November that they were in favor of one central replay location to review disputed home run calls, much like the National Hockey League utilizes to review contested goals. The NHL reviews video only to judge disputed goals that are referred by one of the on-ice referees. That league has a central location in Toronto where every goal scored during the regular and postseason -- more than 6,000 -- is reviewed by off-ice officials. One is assigned at a monitor to watch a particular game, meaning that if there are 14 games on a particular night, 14 officials are utilized. But unlike the NHL, MLB will have the crew chief on site make the decision, not the replay official. "The crew chief will be more familiar with the ground rules of each particular park," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer. "If there's a need to meet with the press after the game, the crew chief is on site, obviously vs. someone who is in Chelsea making the call. All of those reasons were taken into account, sticking with the crew chiefs." MLB is the last of the major professional team sports to utilize instant replay in some fashion. The National Basketball Association uses it to review last-second baskets at the end of each quarter. The National Football League uses it on a much wider scope to review a variety of plays. Selig has always been an ardent opponent of using replay in baseball because, as a traditionalist, he was fond of the human elements having a profound affect on the game. As is his constitution, he painstakingly studied the issue during the past nine months and determined that it was time to adopt the technology. In the end, he changed his mind, if only in part. "My opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play," he said. "But when you look at the technology we have and you look at the new ballparks -- and even some of the older ballparks that have been reconfigured -- there's no question that [these calls] were a challenge for the umpires and everyone else. Like so many times in life, you have to make an adjustment. And this seemed right for that." But as far as answering those who believe that baseball has now embarked on a more slippy slope as far as replay is concerned, Selig was pretty definitive. "This is most limited," Selig added. "I know there's been some concern that if you start here who knows what this could lead to? Not as long as I'm the Commissioner." At 74, Selig's contract expires at the end of the 2012 season.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.