There are some right ways to expand replay
Former umpire McKean believes trusted on-site replay judges would help
LARGO, Fla. -- For openers, Jim McKean will scream "foul" at the top of his voice if Major League Baseball ever decides to use technology to determine balls and strikes.
"That would damage the game," says McKean, who umpired for 27 years, retiring after the 2001 season.
McKean, now a regular on MLB Network Radio and an ESPN consultant, does believe video replay is and should be an integral part of baseball.
"If used correctly," he said the other day during a conversation with MLB.com. "The biggest thing is everybody has to get on board -- the players' union, MLB and the umpires. Ultimately, it will make it better for everybody, but it's a lot bigger issue than meets the eye. There are so many things they have to do to get it right."
During negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement, management and the players signed off on an expansion of replay to include fair or foul balls down the foul lines, and whether balls are caught or trapped.
At least one of those additions was expected to be implemented this season with the already in-use home run video replay. It didn't happen because negotiations with the umpires are ongoing.
I believe for additional replay to be effective, as McKean says, it must be done correctly. Rushing to add one or two of the elements for 2012 would have been a mistake. Umpires have concerns, some of which are justified.
Of course, had replay been used for fair/foul calls, Johan Santana wouldn't have given the New York Mets their first no-hitter on June 1, given Carlos Beltran's shot down the line. But that's another story.
McKean believes MLB should draw the line after it adds the two discussed elements. They could possibly use replay to determine fan interference down the lines, but nothing more.
Before that happens, however, negotiations are under way to alter the mechanics of the system. It's been reported that there is a plan under discussion in which a separate crew of replay umpires would handle the review of the calls.
Currently, home run calls to be reviewed are immediately relayed to the umpires at the ballpark from MLB.com headquarters in New York.
McKean discussed his strong ideas on how the new era of replay should be enacted.
But first, back to the never-ending controversy over balls and strikes.
Bobby Valentine, who worked with McKean at ESPN before Valentine became Red Sox manager, believes technology should be used to help umpires call balls and strikes.
"I want a ball called a ball and a strike called a strike," said Bobby V. "Everybody agrees that getting it right is what we want ... [Umpires are] very good at what they do, but it's impossible to do what they do, so why do we ask them to do the impossible?"
McKean laughed when Valentine's words were repeated.
The former ump kept going back to the importance of the human element.
"I'll never agree to balls and strikes, and calls at the bases," said McKean, a former umpire supervisor who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Baseball is a great game, but it can be boring. A lot of the excitement is the confrontation between the players and the umpires, the mangers and the umpires.
|"If I were still umpiring myself and I was going to help choose somebody to look at my replays, I'd make sure it's a former umpire who's very qualified."|
-- Jim McKean|
on instant replay
It seems there's more controversy involving umpires this season, more missed calls -- more emphasis on the arbiters. Why?
McKean reduces that to "my two big words: communication and technology. To be a good umpire it takes management skills because umpires are actually managing the game. You try to keep both sides happy, which is impossible to do. Most of today's umpires have all the skills, and no matter what people think, they do it very well.
"But situation management -- how you handle situations when you get in them and when you get out of them. Even if you make a major mistake, if you can get into that argument and get out of it pretty clean, people don't notice as much. Now, it seems there's no communication between managers and umpires. There seems to be a little edge with everybody.
"And technology is showing that. Everything you do is on camera. One of the big issues are those close plays at first base. We didn't have those issues during my career because every game wasn't on TV. Those close plays -- truthfully, nobody really knew whether the player was safe or out many times, but [the players and managers] half agreed with the umpire and moved on.
"If it was a close-close play and an umpire had been at it for 15 years, experience came into it. A lot of people would say he's an experienced umpire, it's probably correct. Now, they have it in black and white on the replay. Experience doesn't count much anymore on calls, but it does call for situation management."
McKean was one of the American League's most respected and talented umpires during his 27 years. He believes communication with the players and managers played an important role.
"It was a huge factor," he said. "In the AL, I got to know the managers, the players, the general managers. Whether they liked me or not, at least I had face-to-face contact. When you don't recognize somebody and you don't know them, it makes a huge difference in a confrontation. I've seen that lacking throughout the league today. That's because umpires go to all 30 parks and see the teams maybe only once or twice a season.
"When I was in the AL, you were more familiar with the players and managers. If I was in Baltimore and Earl Weaver and I got into it, he knew he was going to see me in another two weeks, or maybe sooner on the road."
Laughing, McKean added, "Yes, Earl was near the top of my list for ejections."
In Jim's perfect world, when replay is tweaked he'd like to see a former umpire in each ballpark as the fifth person with the normal four-man crews. That umpire would be the so-called replay judge.
One of the biggest problems the judge will have is where to place runners on the bases if a call is overturned by replay.
"That's always been a problem for umpires," said McKean. "We had that problem recently in St. Louis when a triple play was overturned. It was determined the pitcher did not catch a ball cleanly, but on a bounce. There were runners on first and second, the play was reversed."
McKean is emphatic when he says umpires on the field have to have total loyalty to the person making the call after viewing replay. Even with all the camera angles, the decision might ultimately be a judgment call.
He didn't say it, but this obviously is one of the biggest hang-ups in negotiations between the umpires union and management.
"Because [the judge] is actually going to be making calls for them, they're going to have to trust him, especially if they have one of their own in every park. If I were still umpiring myself and I was going to help choose somebody to look at my replays, I'd make sure it's a former umpire who's very qualified."
Meanwhile, the controversy over replay continues.
Getting it right, just like the calls, is the key.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.