PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Ever since the game was invented, before television or even radio existed, baseball counted on the eyes and ears of umpires on the field. Starting this season, many key decisions will be made in a studio far away. Major League Baseball vaulted into the 21st century of technology on Thursday, approving a huge expansion of instant replay in hopes of eliminating blown calls that riled up players, managers and fans.
“I think it’s great,” San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s about getting it right.”
Acknowledging the human element had been overtaken in an era when everyone except the umps could see several views over and over in slow-motion, owners and players and umpires OKed the new system. Now each manager will be allowed to challenge at least one call per game. If he’s right, he gets another challenge. After the seventh inning, a crew chief can request a review on his own if the manager has used his challenges.
“I tell you the fans will love it,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said after owners met and voted their unanimous approval. “It’s another in a long list of changes that will make this sport better than it already is.”
Baseball was the last major pro sport in North America to institute replay when it began late in the 2008 season. Even then, it was only used for close calls on home runs. The NFL, NBA, NHL, some NCAA sports and major tennis tournaments all use a form of replay, and even FIFA and the English Premier League have adopted goal-line technology for soccer. Not that managers won’t still occasionally bolt from the dugout, their veins bulging. The so-called “neighborhood play” at second base on double plays cannot be challenged. Many had safety concerns for middle infielders being wiped out by hard-charging runners if the phantom force was subject to review. Ball-and-strike calls can’t be contested. Neither can check-swings and foul tips. Nor can obstruction and interference rulings — those are up to the umpires’ judgment, like the one at third base in St. Louis that ended Boston’s loss in Game 3 of the World Series last October All reviews will be done by current MLB umpires at a replay center in MLB.com’s New York office. To create a large enough staff, MLB agreed to hire six new big league umpires and call up two minor league umps for the entire season. A seventh major league umpire will be added to replace the late Wally Bell. The umpires on the field will be able to talk to the command center. The replay umpire will make the final decision — that could include where to place runners if, say, a call is reversed from out to safe on a trapped ball in outfield. In addition, managers and others in the dugout will be allowed to communicate by phone with someone in the clubhouse who can watch the videos and advise whether to challenge a call.
“I’m excited to see how it works out. I am interested to see how the flow of the game is affected,” Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said. “It’s a good use of the technology that we have, the fact that we will be able to get more calls corrected and fixed.”
Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said work continues on a proposed rule that would ban home-plate collisions between runners and the catcher. The rule has not been written and talks on its content are ongoing between MLB representatives and the players union, he said.
Even since William McLean became the first professional umpire when he worked a Boston-Philadelphia National League game on April 22, 1876, baseball has celebrated its old-fashioned traditions. Having umpires make the calls on the field was one of them. So were arguments between managers and umpires, often to the delight of fans. Worries that replays would slow the pace even more were offset by this: Replay decisions cannot be argued. Replay umpires will make their final rulings in no more than a minute to 90 seconds, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre estimated.
“With our technology today we can do that in a way I don’t think we will interrupt the flow of the game,” Bochy said. To make reviews uniform, cameras will transit 12 angles from each ballpark. MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred said it was uncertain whether the replay system will be in place in Australia for the season-opening series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“For some, the discussions regarding expanded replay appeared to move too slowly, too deliberately,” said Brian Lam, the lawyer for the World Umpires Association. “But there were technical and operational challenges that needed to be addressed, and that took time. With so many competing interests and opinions, it is unlikely that all will be completely pleased at the end of the day, but that’s often the nature of things.”
MLB had talked for a few years about expanding replay to include fair-or-foul calls and traps. Several missed calls in the postseason ratcheted up the debate. The players’ union gave its approval for the 2014 season.
“The players look forward to the expanded use of replay this season, and they will monitor closely its effects on the game before negotiating over its use in future seasons,” union Executive Director Tony Clark said in a statement.
Selig said the replay expansion ranks “very, very high” when compared with other moves made during his time on the job. The new rule allows ballparks to show fans the same replays on stadium video screens. But only plays under review can be shown on the screen in slow motion.
“It’s the first time in the history of the game that a manager has the opportunity to change the call of a play that may have adversarily affected their team,” said Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz, who chaired the committee that came up with the replay plan, “that may have cost them the game, that may have cost them the division, that may have cost them a World Series.”
The existing rule on umpires calling for a review of whether a hit was a home run or not will remain, although the review will be done by the umpire in New York. Torre said the number of manager challenges were limited to a maximum of two to maintain “the rhythm of the game.”
“We’re going to start this way and if we feel something has to be adjusted we’re certainly going to be aware of that,” he said. Torre and MLB executive Tony La Russa, both ex-managers, joined Schuerholz on the replay committee.
“We’re really going for the dramatic miss, not all misses,” La Russa said. “...This is a challenge for a game-changing play that goes against you, and now you can correct it.”