Friday, September 5, 2008

Shhh. Instant replay at work.

        Just inside the tunnel behind home plate at Comerica Park, bolted to the concrete wall across the corridor from the umpires’ dressing room, there is a locked 4-by-4 foot gray box.
        “Property of The Office of The Commissioner of Baseball,” it reads. “For use by authorized Major League Personnel only.”
        It’s the infamous “replay box.”
        It is top secret and very hush-hush. The Tigers’ public relations people claim they can’t talk about it without permission from Major League Baseball. Writers walking by the box on their way to and from the field are supposed to turn their heads and shield their eyes.
        However, I have it on good authority that the mysterious box contains a flat-screen TV, a remote control, and a telephone that will provide the umpires with a direct link to mission control in New York.
        Technicians at baseball headquarters --  sequestered in what I have been told is a 18-by-24 foot  room known as the Network Operations Center, filled with computers and TV screens, on the fifth floor of a former bakery in Manhattan’s meatpacking district --  will provide the umpires at every ballpark in the country with as many different views as possible of any home run in question.
        The umpires will then uphold or reverse the call -- fair or four, over the fence or not.
        But be forewarned: Baseball’s entire high-tech replay system will be at the mercy of the local television feeds.
        And, as we have seen, those are not always conclusive or fool proof
        Earlier this month Placido Polanco launched a long, high ninth-inning fly ball down the left field line at Comerica Park. The third base umpire called it foul. Jim Leyland asked him to check with the home plate umpire to see if a replay was warranted. The umps huddled and, without any electronic intervention, decreed that their original call was correct.
        Based on the one TV replay I saw, moments after the play, I thought the ball was definitely foul. But when I reached the Tigers’ clubhouse after the game, several of the players were gathered around TV sets in the video room, watching replay after replay after replay.
        From some angles it looked like a home run. No question. From others, it definitely appeared foul. The more they watched, the more uncertain it became.
        Ultimately it came down to the umpires’ judgment, just as it has in baseball for more than 100 years.
        There have been more than 2,000  games played this season --  and, at most, maybe 25 questionable home run calls that might have qualified for instant replay.
        For that, baseball has spent $2.5 million setting up the replay system -- or $100,000 per disputable call, maybe five of which would have been overturned.
        Everyone is in favor of getting every call right. But it seems to me, the umpires have been doing a pretty good job of that for the last century or so.
        What’s next? Balls that are trapped by diving outfielders? Balls that just miss the chalk lines?
        I fear this is, indeed, a dangerous, slippery slope.
        Unlike pro football, where coaches can call for an instant replay by hurling a red flag out on the field, baseball managers cannot request a replay. If they could, Jim Leyland joked he might grab 160-pound infield coach Rafael Belliard and throw him out on the field to get the umpires’ attention.


Blogger Jerry said...

Right on Jim, Tell them to leave the game alone. The umpires are a part of the game. They call the play the way they saw it. Right or wrong they make the calls.

September 6, 2008 at 8:22 PM 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home