MLB Says Hello to Replay Review, Enters Modern Times

Major League Baseball adopted new replay rules yesterday, and these rules will be in place for Opening Day. Just about any play can be reviewed (except for ball and strike calls and the neighborhood play at second base). The new rules are far from perfect as MLB is adopting the NFL's idiotic challenge system, in which the manager has to request the umpires review the call. If the manager wins the challenge, he gets another challenge he can use later in the game, but if he loses, then the team's out of luck.

Still, it is a huge improvement over the current system in which only home runs, fan interference, and whether a ball lands fair or foul could be reviewed. The on-field umpires will no longer conduct the reviews. MLB is adopting the NHL system in which replay umps will be watching video feeds in New York, and will then review the calls when requested.

The very best thing is that MLB has stated that, from now on, all replays can be shown on the stadium video boards. Replays have been restricted in years past because the thin-skinned umpires objected, and teams were not allowed to replay any action on the field that could show an umpire getting a call wrong, or could result in a team or the crowd thinking an umpire blew a call.

For the most part, the umpires get the calls correct. Sitting in the Astrodome video room for over a decade and seeing every replay of every game, I was rather amazed at just how accurate the umps were (not counting ball/strike calls of course). Yet in those games where I sat in the DiamondVision replay chair, taping the plays and prepping the replays, I always had to waive off the director from showing any play that could conceivably be close because the umpires would bitch and moan and threaten all kinds of reprisals. And after I screwed up one time, the replay rules were something with which I never again messed.

On Memorial Day 1990 the Astros were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in the first of a three game series. The umps had been on the warpath the entire season, calling the Dome video board multiple times to complain about replays that were showable within the existing rules, but which the umps thought put them in a bad light. It was also strange because the umps weren't getting the calls wrong and the replays backed them up. But they wanted to bitch, and bitch they did.

The Astros had two men on with two outs in the bottom of the fourth when Alex Trevino hit a slow roller between first and second. He beat the throw to first and during this time, Ken Caminiti went home, beating the throw to tie the game. Having missed the play at first because I was concentrating on monitors showing the action at the plate, I cued up the play and gave the director the okay to replay the action for the fans. And it was only then that is realized how close the play at first base was, and it wasn't helped when Whitey Herzog stormed out of the Cardinals dugout to argue the call.

The umpire got the call at first right. But the crappy resolution on the big Astrodome video screens made the play look really close, which is why Herzog kept pointing to the boards to explain why the ump was an idiot. And after the ump finished with Herzog, he walked over to the Astros dugout, picked up the dugout phone, phoned the video booth, and ordered us to shut down for the rest of the game.

The next day I was called into general manager Bill Wood's office for a little meeting with him, my boss, and the team's marketing director. The marketing guy wanted me fired because being shut down by the umps meant we couldn't play any commercials for the captive crowd. But Wood just laughed, said a few choice words about the umpires, and told us to carry on with what we were doing since we had more or less followed the rules and because the ump had made the right call and took out Whitey Herzog's anger on us.

But it was a lessen learned, and we were much, much more careful over the years. We got to the point where even if the replay wasn't close, we wouldn't show if there was even the slightest chance that the delicate flowers that were the umps would get hurt feelings.

So it's a good thing the replay review rules are being changed. The challenge system's not perfect -- it should be set up like the NHL's where the calls are triggered by the replay officials in New York, and the managers shouldn't be limited in the number of challenges they can use a game (after the sixth inning, the umpires can initiate replays at their discretion).

There should now be no excuse for missed calls. Since all plays can now be replayed, maybe the fans in the stands will get to see what's actually going on instead of having to guess. And since all plays can now be showed, video board operators no longer have to fear the wrath of thin-skinned tyrants.

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