The biggest rules change since the DH is coming soon
The age of instant replay is dawning. Major league owners, with approval from the umpires and players, intend to begin using replay on so-called boundary calls before the year ends, allowing the next World Series to be the first to offer umpires technological help. It stands to be the most significant rules change since the addition of the designated hitter in 1973.
Commissioner Bud Selig will make a presentation to owners at their two-day meeting in Washington that begins on Wednesday. Said Selig, "We're still checking things. I will tell you that nothing is final yet. All I can tell you is if everything is lined up, we will go to instant replay at some point."
Selig declined to set a timetable. His hesitation, according to a baseball source, is partly due to the logistics of getting the ballparks hardwired for such a system. In the most discussed scenario, officials at a central office, likely in New York, will monitor all games and immediately send video of questionable boundary calls to an on-site device for review by the umpires. The umpires would determine whether their original call should stand or not.
"If all goes well that could be sooner rather than later," the source said. When asked if owners expect instant replay to be used in 2008, the source replied, "Yes."
The umpires and players also are in favor of a replay system, though the players have expressed a concern about instituting replay during the regular season. Should September games, for instance, be played under rules that were not in place during the first five months of the season? Or, if all parties agree that replay is good for the game, why not institute it as soon as the system is ready?
Baseball wants replay in a very limited sense: to determine fair or foul balls on potential home runs as well as whether balls actually cleared the outfield wall for home runs, including instances that involve possible fan interference. It was not immediately determined if balls near the foul line, even if not near the foul pole, would qualify as boundary calls open to review. Close plays on the bases, trapped balls by fielders, and borderline pitches will not be reviewable.
Selig had long been an opponent of any instant replay system. As recently as 2005 Selig said, "But do I believe in instant replay? No, I do not. Human error is part of our sport."
The commissioner, however, began to change his mind as a groundswell of support for replay built from general managers and umpires, and as improvements in the way games are televised, including high definition, revealed more instances in which umpires missed the critical difference between, say, a foul ball and a home run. Umpires were increasingly challenged by the quirks of cozy modern ballparks, as well as sometimes chagrined to know that the viewer, including those in the ballpark near monitors, had better information on making a proper call than they did. The GMs voted 25-5 last November to endorse pursuing a system for boundary calls.
Like Selig, the GMs who opposed the idea expressed concern about slowing down games. However, MLB wants a streamlined system that would run its course in less time than the typical argument that often results from controversial boundary calls. The system would still empower umpires to be the sole arbiters of on-field calls.
The decision whether to review a call or not would apparently be made via communication between replay officials and umpires. Managers, unlike NFL coaches and tennis players, would not be allowed to choose which calls they want reviewed. Baseball officials understand that such a system would encourage gamesmanship as a tactical element and clearly would lead to slowing down the pace of games. Need more time for your reliever to warm up or to "freeze" an opposing pitcher? Throw a challenge flag. Baseball wants no part of that.