Spirit of '76: Close calls return to MLB scoreboards
Yankee Stadium incident led to 37-year ban on parks showing of close replays
The year was 1976, early in the days of videotape's widespread use -- we're talking Betamax early. The concept of instant replay was only about a decade old, and at newly refurbished Yankee Stadium, there was a state-of-the-art video board at the ready.
On Aug. 8 that year, the fancy new Yankee Stadium video board showed what would be the last controversial call to be displayed at a Major League ballpark for nearly four decades.
This coming season, as part of the new instant-replay procedures enacted by Major League owners this week, any replay may be shown on the video boards that are now fixtures in every ballpark -- even controversial calls.
While video boards have been used for highlights and between-innings fare for decades now, showing a possible mistake by an umpire on the video board has been verboten since 1976 -- essentially ever since a call in an Orioles-Yankees game went against the home team.
As first recollected this week by MASNSports.com, that play became a bookend for instant-replay history this week. The controversial call in the eighth inning wound up being the catalyst for a scoreboard policy that extended into a new century.
The play: With the Yankees trailing, 6-5, and the potential tying run at third base, Gene Locklear hit a grounder to O's third baseman Doug DeCinces, who threw to first baseman Tony Muser. First-base umpire Bill Kunkel called Locklear out, but Yanks manager Billy Martin sprinted out of the dugout to protest, saying that Muser not only had bobbled the ball but missed the bag, too.
Cue the video: While Martin was arguing, the Yankees began to show the play repeatedly on the video board, and the fans began to shower the umpires with boos. They booed when the umpires' names were posted on the scoreboard, too. They booed them off the field after the game.
The Orioles wound up scoring two runs in the ninth to take an 8-5 win over the eventual American League champions, but the controversy had only begun. Within days, AL president Lee MacPhail reprimanded the Yankees and fined the club (gasp) $1,000, according to a report from The Associated Press. MacPhail sent Steinbrenner a telegram that was quoted by the AP, noting the Yanks' actions were "contrary to policy recommended by this league."
"Irresponsible action of this sort could result in physical harm to an umpire and, in fact, it has been reported to me that, on this occasion, a bottle was thrown on the field, possibly from an upper deck, landing near the umpire," MacPhail's telegram read, in part.
The Yankees, in their fourth season under the ownership of George Steinbrenner, responded with a press release, which stated any objects were thrown toward the umpires immediately after the play, not after the scoreboard was put to use.
The release read, in part, "... we would like to point out that we have only the fans in mind when we use our scoreboard for instant replays. The board cost us $3 million and we see no reason, with this great innovation, why fans at the ballgame should see anything less than the fans at home, where instant replay has become a way of life."
Almost four decades later, expanded instant replay is a new way of life in Major League Baseball, and now fans will be able to watch those close plays on the big screen once again.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB.