Recent history led to replay for MLB
Several disputed calls this year paved way for new system
NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball had been one of the last remaining professional sports not to utilize some form of instant replay, hoping to preserve a human element that has characterized umpiring since the game's inception.
Commissioner Bud Selig had repeatedly stated his opposition, but that stance shifted considerably this season, a campaign that has been marked by numerous missed calls as umpires adjust to the nuances of more challenging ballpark dimensions.
Well before umpires mistakenly ruled on three home run calls in the span of four days this May, missed calls had become part of the game's lore.
One prominent example in recent history was Derek Jeter's disputed home run in the 1996 American League Championship Series. Had baseball enjoyed access to instant replay at that time, right-field umpire Richie Garcia would have seen what television viewers across the country did: that 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall, snaring the baseball from directly over the head of Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco and bringing it over the wall for a home run that tied Game 1.
The game went into extra innings and ended when Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams hit a walk-off homer in the 11th. American League President Gene Budig denied Baltimore's protest of the game, but upon seeing a replay after the game, Garcia admitted he had been wrong in awarding Jeter a homer. Jeter has since said that he favors instant replay, despite the topic of the Maier incident: "It was a home run, wasn't it?" Jeter said, smiling.
Major League umpires have been encouraged to gather to discuss controversial calls, with numerous reversals and correct outcomes determined. But umpires cannot correctly rule on home run plays they cannot clearly see, which is where instant replay would help during a time when stadiums have sacrificed clarity in favor of fan-friendly amenities.
"It's so tricky now with all the ballparks and the different dimensions," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "[The umpires are] not enough. They can't always pick it up. You have all these quirks that make it so difficult. I can't tell sometimes, and players can't tell sometimes. I believe it's the way to go. You want to get it right."
The debate over the use of instant replay in Major League games was renewed in force this year by three missed calls over the span of a four-day period. In a nationally televised May 18 Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium, the Mets' Carlos Delgado had a three-run homer taken away, though third-base umpire Mike Reilly originally -- and correctly -- signaled home run.
Plate umpire Bob Davidson overturned Reilly's ruling, returning Delgado to bat as television replays showed the baseball had left a scuff at the base of the left-field foul pole. Then-bench coach Jerry Manuel was ejected for arguing and Delgado instead returned to bat, though the call did not affect the outcome of the game, an 11-2 Mets victory.
"My three partners were adamant that the ball was foul," Reilly said at the time. "Very, very tough call. You got all the fans down there, standing around the pole, hands up. Actually, sometimes you can almost get blocked out. We want to make sure we try to get it right."
The next evening at Minute Maid Park in Houston, umpires ruled that a ball hit by the Cubs' Geovany Soto was in play, believing that the ball hit off the center-field wall. Soto rounded the bases with an inside-the-park home run on the play, though he should have been immediately credited with a home run anyway.
"When I turned first, and I was about to step on second, the umpire called safe, like the play's still live," Soto said. "I tried to get to third with a standup triple, but [third-base coach] Mike Quade waved me home. I was like, 'No way.' I was using my last breath to get to third, and he wants me to go home. I just kept going, and I just got there."
Umpire Joe West later said that he had lost sight of the ball, and in response, Astros ground crew workers later removed a piece of wood that had been painted yellow and contributed to the distraction.
"There's no need for that type of confusion in a big league ballpark," said Bob Watson, MLB's vice president of rules and on-field operations.
The third and final call in the troublesome stretch came on May 21, when umpires took a home run away from Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees third baseman hit a ball off a set of yellow stairs past the fence in right-center field at Yankee Stadium, bouncing back on to the field as Rodriguez was forced to speed up his running and slide into second base with a double.
"I didn't see it," Rodriguez said. "I could just tell by the reaction of all the guys in the dugout, and by the reaction of all the Baltimore guys, that it was a home run."
The lost homer did not affect the outcome of an 8-0 Yankees victory, but may prove to be a footnote in Rodriguez's chase to become baseball's all-time king, costing him what would have been No. 525.
Asked if he was a proponent of instant replay, A-Rod said, "Well, I did tonight. I didn't want it the other night against the Mets. I'm torn."
To ward off future occurrences, the Yankees installed a chain-link fence over the staircase to deaden balls and keep them over the wall, while manager Joe Girardi pledged his support for instant replay.
"I like that," Girardi said. "I think it should be for the home run and the home run only. I actually think it would be a quicker decision, and it would speed up the game."
There have been other examples this season. Yet another call occurred on August 3 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, when the Phillies' Shane Victorino was credited with a two-run home run on a ball that sliced foul inside the left-field pole. It may have meant little to the Marlins that evening, who won the game, 8-2, but by that moment, the movement to put instant replay into the toolbelt of Major League umpires was already well under way.
|"It's nothing against the umpires or trying to take away the human element of the game. I'm for getting the call right because there's so much at stake. Let's not have something happen at a very pivotal moment that changes the course of history for a particular franchise."|
|-- White Sox GM Kenny Williams|
In fact, Major League Baseball had a camera in place near the Phillies' dugout that night, testing for the upcoming rollout of instant replay, though third-base umpire Dale Scott did not have the technology at his disposal.
"That is what replay is going to be there for," Scott told the Philadelphia Daily News after the game.
Florida third baseman Jorge Cantu had the best view of Victorino's drive and said that there was no doubt the ball was foul.
"I tried to tell him to ask for help. They agreed it was a home run," Cantu said. "Everybody missed it. I don't argue unless I need to argue, because I knew the truth. It was right in front of me. I knew it was a foul ball. That's why there is all the talk about instant replay."
Major League general managers approved the limited use of instant replay in November 2007, recommending it through a 25-5 vote during an annual meeting. The voting was conducted regarding limited boundary calls, such as determining whether possible home runs are fair or foul, if balls have actually cleared fences, and to review potential fan interference.
Many Major League players and managers pledged support for the instant replay program this season.
"I think something like that will be useful," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That's a huge impact. I mean, some guy hits a three-run homer, a legitimate three-run homer, and you get nothing for it -- I think they should look at it. As long as you don't turn it into a fiasco, I think it's good. I don't have any problem with that."
"I think most guys are for it," said the Twins' Michael Cuddyer, who still recalls losing a home run in 2006 to a missed call. "I don't think it's going to take time away from the game. No more so than when they meet and are standing there and nothing is resolved anyway. Now they can meet, stuff will be resolved and we can go forward."
In discussions, the elapsed time of games and recent efforts to trim wasted seconds from play have been addressed. However, instant replay is not believed to require significantly more time than is wasted by having managers argue calls on the field.
In fact, the addition of instant replay to the umpires' repertoire may actually help save time in Major League games for the remainder of the season.
"I'm just for getting calls right," said Kenny Williams, the GM of the White Sox. "It's nothing against the umpires or trying to take away the human element of the game. I'm for getting the call right because there's so much at stake. Let's not have something happen at a very pivotal moment that changes the course of history for a particular franchise."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Numerous MLB.com reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.