Ideas for expanded use of instant replay
Expanded video replay is on its way. Bud Selig said so last week, which really isn't breaking news because the Commissioner has said the same thing before.
Ever since expansion of replay was included in the new collective bargaining agreement negotiated last fall, that it would eventually happen has been a given.
In fact, there was an outside chance it might have been added for this season, but too many unforeseen problems arose. So it was tabled as discussions with umpires over details continued.
During an interview on ESPN Radio in New York on Friday, Selig said: "We're now going to add it [replay] on trapped balls in the outfield and, as I call them, bullets [fair or foul] down the right- and left-field lines."
Selig has been making similar comments, with no time frame on implementation, for weeks.
The key is that it has to be done correctly. To Selig's credit, that is why implementation is on hold. Chances are these two new elements will be added for 2013, becoming part of realignment, with Houston moving to the American League West and an Interleague game taking place virtually every day.
Selig has long been opposed to taking the human element from the game and for years was opposed to any replay at all.
When he relented, replay was introduced in 2008 for home runs -- to determine if they are fair or foul, or if the ball clears the fence or wall.
When the next two points are added, hopefully that will be it. Forever.
Too much instant replay is worse than not enough.
But, as stated, the new additions must be done correctly.
Add a fifth umpire to the existing four-man crews. This umpire would sit in the press box, in a video cubicle, and after watching replays, be responsible for the ultimate decision. He then would relay it to the crew chief on the field.
The World Umpires Association (this is a sensitive issue) must agree that this fifth umpire has the power -- and their blessing -- to make the final call after viewing the replay.
All ballparks will be equipped with the same number of cameras and camera angles. Additionally, the video cubicle would be installed in each stadium. This would eliminate umpires converging under the stands as they now do when video is used for home runs.
Interrupting the flow of the game must be kept to a minimum.
For this to work smoothly management, players and umpires have to be on the same page. Until they are, it should not be implemented.
The fifth umpire will obviously on occasion overturn decisions made on the field.
Nothing will be more difficult than placing runners on the bases when balls down the lines become an issue.
"At first, I thought ground balls over the bag was a no-brainer," said Joe Torre, MLB executive vice president for baseball operations. "First of all, you want umpires to call what they see. In the case of fair or foul, the smartest thing is to call the ball fair. Because if it's called foul and ruled fair, where do we put the runners?
"That's why, through education, I'm not so quick to accept more replay. We've had all the suggestions, the extra umpire, someone sitting at MLB Advanced Media."
Torre agreed there needs to be a "significant number" of more cameras at every ballpark to get the necessary views.
Jim McKean, who umpired for 27 years before retiring, said placing the baserunners when a call is overturned will be the biggest issue.
"That's always been a problem for umpires," McKean told MLB.com during a recent interview. "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."
It won't come easily, but McKean believes 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 become a judgment call.
"Because he [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 ballpark," said McKean. "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."
Torre said, "The extra umpire is something we're discussing. I can't say what's wrong with it, because we're not finished talking about it."
Adding a fifth umpire and upgrading many of the ballparks so that their video capabilities are all the same will be costly.
But if Selig and Major League Baseball are committed to implement more video replay, there can be no shortcuts.
Selig seems to agree.
"We're going to expand instant replay when we have the technology to do that," he said, adding, "Baseball is a game of pace, you can't compare it to anything else. We have to be careful how we proceed."
Which is the only way for this to really work.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.