Baseball umpire Frank Pulli dies at 78


In this 1990 photo, third-base umpire Frank Pulli, right, looks at an instant replay on an ESPN camera during a baseball game. Pulli, who used instant replay to make a call nearly a decade before video reviews were allowed, died Aug. 28, 2013, in Palm Harbor, Fla., from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 78. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
August 31, 2013

Frank Pulli, a longtime baseball umpire who used instant replay to make a call nearly a decade before video reviews were allowed, died Aug. 28 in Palm Harbor, Fla. He was 78.

He had complications from Parkinson’s disease, Major League Baseball said in a statement.

Mr. Pulli umpired in the National League from 1972 to 1999 and worked four World Series, six league championship series and two All-Star games. He was among the 22 umpires who lost their jobs in a failed mass resignation orchestrated by Richie Phillips, then the head of the umpires’ union.

Early in the 1999 season, Cliff Floyd of the Florida Marlins hit a drive against St. Louis that was ruled a double. Fredi Gonzalez, the Marlins’ interim manager, argued the play, which led Mr. Pulli, the crew chief, to rule that Floyd had hit a home run.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa protested, prompting Mr. Pulli to check video replays on a TV monitor near the Marlins’ dugout. The game in Miami was delayed for more than five minutes until Mr. Pulli overturned his own call and put Floyd back at second base.

“He called a home run and Tony La Russa came out and said it wasn’t a homer,” Gonzalez, now the manager of the Atlanta Braves, recalled on Thursday. “So he goes and looks at the monitor in the dugout. The main thing was, he got the play right.”

The Marlins filed a protest that was denied by National League President Len Coleman. But Coleman also said Mr. Pulli was incorrect to use replay.

“What I remember most about that whole thing was he was a total gentleman,” recalled Gonzalez, then a coach who was filling in for Marlins manager John Boles. “Here I was, this guy who wasn’t even supposed to be managing, and he treated me with respect.”

After the game, Mr. Pulli said it was the first time he had used a TV replay to make a call.

“I sure don’t want to make a habit of it,” he said then. “But at that moment, I thought it was the proper thing to do. . . . I hope I don’t have to go to the replay again. I don’t want it to become like football.”

In 2008, Major League Baseball approved the use of replay on potential home runs. Expanded use of replay is scheduled to begin next season.

Frank Victor Pulli was born March 22, 1935, in Easton, Pa., and served in the Air Force before becoming an umpire. He was married twice, and his survivors include six children and a brother.

In Game 4 of the 1978 World Series between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, Mr. Pulli was involved in a controversial call on the bases that allowed a run to score for the Yankees.

As the Dodgers tried to turn an inning-ending double play in the sixth inning, a relay throw by second baseman Davey Lopes glanced off the leg of Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson.

After the run scored, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda argued that Jackson should have been called out for interference. Mr. Pulli, the umpire at first base, allowed the play to stand. The Yankees won the game in 10 innings, and went on to win the World Series in six games.

On April 8, 1974, Mr. Pulli was the first-base umpire when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s career record.

From 2000 to 2007, Mr. Pulli was an umpire supervisor and helped implement a computerized system designed to allow umpires to improve their ball-and-strike calls.

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