Baseball Trots Out Instant Replay
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The home run, for so long the darling of replay, will also be subject to replay beginning tomorrow. For the first time, Major League Baseball will introduce a limited instant replay system to review questionable home runs -- a decision, announced yesterday, that counters the sport's tradition-bound ethos and subjects its most thrilling play to a new measure of scrutiny.
Three games tomorrow will use the system. By Friday, instant replay will go leaguewide. Only umpire crew chiefs will be authorized to seek a video review, and they can do so only to answer three questions: Was a potential home run fair or foul? Did a potential home run go over the fence? Did a fan interfere with a potential home run?
With that, baseball steps into a technological domain that America's other major sports know well. The NHL adopted replay in 1991. The NBA did so in 2002. While baseball debated for a generation about the tolerance for human error, the NFL adopted replay (1986), abolished replay (1992) and adopted replay again (1999).
"Anytime you try to change something in baseball, it's both emotional and difficult," Commissioner Bud Selig said yesterday.
But Selig, who long advocated for a replay-free sport, finally relented. A wave of new ballparks have outfield fences with idiosyncratic nooks and low walls. Sometimes, an angle in the fence can block an umpire's sightline. Sometimes, a fan's glove and an outfielder's glove can fight for the same ball.
"I believe that because of the configuration of ballparks, both new and old, that calling home runs is really much more difficult than it once was," Selig said. "And therefore -- and only in those cases -- should we have replay."
Now, when a crew chief determines that replay assistance is needed -- managers cannot challenge plays -- he will leave the field (along with two fellow umpires) and repair to a video room, where the crew will watch a video feed from the headquarters of Major League Baseball Advanced Media in New York. A technician and either an umpire supervisor or former umpire will monitor all games from New York, and communicate with the crew chiefs. If replay shows no clear evidence, the original on-field call will stand.
In a conference call yesterday, Selig emphasized that limited replay would not spread to other parts of the game -- grounders down the line, say, or traps.
"Not as long as I'm the commissioner," said Selig, who had stated earlier that "my opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play."
Baseball will use the system, as currently drawn, through the postseason, but the players' association can request a review of the system during the offseason, up until Dec. 10. If no concerns are raised, the replay system will continue through 2011.
At Nationals Park, the reaction to the announcement was mostly positive.
"I like it," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "I think they made the right decision when it comes to only being home runs foul or fair because the new dimensions and the way the new stadiums are built makes it very tough on the umpires."