By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Instant replay may now become a factor on a limited basis in Major League Baseball games.
The collective general managers voted 25-5 during their Tuesday morning session to at least explore the possibility of using the video technology to help decide disputed home run calls: fair or foul, in or out of the ballpark.
"We've talked about replay for borderline calls -- safe and out, home runs or non-home runs -- for a number of years," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, about a proposal handed down by the technology committee headed by Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd. "The umpires, particularly in a four-man crew, in many instances are 150 feet from the outfield fence where the ball crosses the line.
"Are there circumstances when it might make sense to review that? Having umpired at the amateur level, those are hard calls for umpires to make at that distance."
Since there's no formal procedure for moving the concept along, a proposal will now be written and sent to Commissioner Bud Selig, who will determine how it will be vetted, DuPuy said, adding that Selig will almost certainly make a report to the executive council during next week's owners' meetings at nearby Naples, Fla. The unions for the players and umpires ultimately will also be involved in the ongoing process.
Calling movement in MLB "glacial," Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's vice president of baseball operations, said he didn't expect the proposal to be cast into a rule and implemented in time for the 2008 season. DuPuy seconded that notion.
But an overwhelming majority of the GMs are obviously on board. Brian Cashman, the Yankees general manager, said he's wildly in favor of implementing instant replay, at least on a limited basis.
"It's amazing that umpires are right as much as they are," he said. "About 99.9 percent of the time they're accurate. But nobody wants to be in a position where you work morning, noon and night for 12 months, and have it go down to one call in one game. Each game is important. All I know is I support any form and fashion of baby steps toward utilizing technology to benefit the umpires and the game."
Voicing the sentiments of the five-vote opposition, new Houston GM Ed Wade cited the same accuracy numbers as Cashman, but used them in a different light.
"The umpires were more right than wrong 99.9 percent of the time," he said. "With the increased time of the game, at some point you'll get to a stage where managers are almost compelled to challenge and that's why I voted against it. I thought the guys on the committee made some very good points. There's a lot of validity to what they had to say. I just think that if you're going to do something like that on a limited scope, it doesn't stay limited."
Selig, for his part, has been long against injecting the technology into the game, although his stance seemed to soften last month when he was asked about the issue in Arizona, where the Rockies were playing the Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series.
For the first time after years of balking at the notion, the Commissioner counseled a wait-and-see approach.
"I don't like instant replay because I don't like all the delays," Selig said. "I think it sometimes creates as many problems or more than it solves. But I am willing to say we'll at least talk about this if people want to talk about it. I'm going to let the general managers discuss it, let them come back and make recommendations. No, I'm not a big advocate of instant replay."
The tempo of the game was also a hot topic of conversation at Tuesday morning's meeting, said Solomon, noting that current rules will be utilized this coming season to help quicken the pace. Solomon said that games had slowed to a crawl this past season, noting that Game 3 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Rockies at Denver was played in a record four hours, 19 minutes.
"Those of us who were at that game felt every minute of it," Solomon said. "We're going to be very vigilant at enforcing current rules on the books -- the 12-second rule, for example, in which the pitcher has to get the ball to the plate. We're going to restrict the amount of times we let a batter call timeout. We're trying to start the game [each inning] by having a cue the umpire will send to pitchers."
As far as how instant replay will affect all that, Solomon said it remains to be seen.
After some discussion, the general managers determined that they are in favor of one central replay location somewhere in the U.S., most probably at the Commissioner's Office in New York, to do all replay review, much like the National Hockey League has positioned it.
"From the research we've done and what we've been told, the NHL format works the best," Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said.
The NHL uses replay only to judge disputed goals that are referred by one of the on-ice referees. They have a central location in Toronto where every goal scored during the regular and postseason -- more than 6,000 -- is reviewed by off-ice officials. One is assigned at a monitor to watch a particular game, meaning that if there are 14 games on a particular night, 14 officials are utilized, said Frank Brown, a spokesman for the league.
"The decision on any disputed goal for a televised game is centrally made in Toronto," Brown said, "no matter where it's being played."
Also, one official staffs a replay booth located on-site at each arena, which is equipped with high-definition cameras placed high above the two goals. While 1,230 games are played each regular season, only about a dozen are not televised on either the national or local level. In that case, a second replay official is stationed in the arena and disputed goals are determined on site, Brown said.
For MLB, this could be a large expense to implement, another aspect that baseball officials are going to have to consider.
"I think all of that has to be looked at," DuPuy said. "We have more cameras in place during our games than the NHL does because they've got a more contained surface. The first thing we have to look at is whether the technology we have in place for all of our regional sports network broadcasts would be sufficient. We also have to look at whether we want to use [the system] for the regular season or just the postseason and how you would review it."
As far as the other two major professional team sports are concerned, the National Basketball Association uses replay just to determine the validity of last-second shots, as opposed to time left on the game clock. Only the National Football League uses replay extensively to review disputed plays. In the NFL system, a head coach can ask to review any call at the risk of losing a timeout if it's not reversed.
MLB, like the NHL and NBA, would at least start with replay on a restricted basis: only to determine the validity -- or lack thereof -- of a home run.
"Personally, I think with all this technology out there, at least you've got to consider it," Omar Minaya, the Mets GM, said. "Of course, it's how we use it. That's the key. I am a traditionalist, but I also believe that you would hate to see a season or a World Series end on a controversial play."