For World Series, tradition still trumps instant replay

Commissioner Bud Selig won't be expanding the replay system, despite a series of bad calls by umpires this postseason.

October 28, 2009|Bill Shaikin

NEW YORK — If the World Series at all resembles the first two rounds of the baseball playoffs, an umpire will make a bad call, a call so bad that instant replay will reveal the error for all of America to see, in living color, in high definition, and within seconds.

The manager will charge onto the field to argue. The umpire will defend his call. The game will go on. The error will not be corrected.

With a limited replay system and supporting facilities already in use, Commissioner Bud Selig could authorize a broader use of instant replay by the time the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies play Game 1 of the World Series tonight at Yankee Stadium.

Yet, the commissioner insists he has no plans to expand the replay system, not for the World Series and not for next season, not as what he would see as a knee-jerk response to a rare and sudden epidemic of high-profile blown calls.

"I think you can overreact to situations," Selig said. "It isn't change I'm afraid of. I'm not sure that would contribute to the improvement of the sport."

The postseason that should be all about Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia and about Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee has been about the umpires too.

The postseason also has been about CB Bucknor, who blew three calls at first base in one game between the Angels and Boston Red Sox, and Tim McClelland, who blew two calls at third base in one game between the Angels and Yankees, and Phil Cuzzi, who blew a call that quite possibly cost the Minnesota Twins a victory in their series with the Yankees.

The incidents have left critics wondering why baseball would not embrace technology rather than resist the chance to correct a mistake obvious to every fan with a television set.

"I understand the concerns that have been raised," Selig said. "I watch every game. I don't take any of this lightly.

"The umpires for the most part have done extremely well over the course of the season. I'll admit to you there have been some controversial decisions. At this point in time, I really feel if you begin to expand replay, it not only is injurious to the pace of the game, but it opens up a Pandora's box: Where do you start? Where do you stop?"

That appeared to be a more relevant question last season, when a sport that has long colored itself in tradition and the human element gave way to replay technology.

The system approved by Selig and implemented in August 2008 strictly limits the use of replay to resolve three questions: Was that home run fair or foul? Did the ball actually clear the fence? Did a fan interfere with a ball in play?

Replays were used to review 58 calls this year -- none so far in the playoffs -- and the umpire's call was reversed 20 times, according to Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney.

Umpires leave the field to review television replays fed to the ballpark by MLB officials. The average replay has taken "a little bit longer" than the two to 2 1/2 minutes baseball officials had projected, Courtney said.

Selig appears wary of expanding the replay system in part because of the possible delays in reviewing less conclusive plays from multiple angles, concerned in particular about the effect on a pitcher who has to wait on the mound for those extra minutes.

Fox plans to cover the World Series with 20 cameras, all with built-in recording devices, spokesman Dan Bell said. He said local broadcasts, such as on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, might have half as many cameras, some of which could require a separate recording device.

So, while determining whether a ball bounced above or below a yellow line on an outfield fence can be relatively simple, the multiple angles necessary to decide whether a runner was tagged out or beat a throw to first base might not be readily available for every game, or be conclusive.

"Some replays, you take one look and you've got it," Fox Sports President Ed Goren said. "Sometimes, you have to go back a few times to get something definitive, or you might just end up sticking with the call on the field."

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, who witnessed much of the October cavalcade of errors, said he would not support additional use of instant replay.

"I don't think it's practical. I don't think it's needed," Scioscia said. "As much as you see us argue, and you see players argue, it sounds like [the umpires are correct] 51%. But 99% of the time they're correct with their calls.

"If you're playing at a certain level, you should be able to absorb a call that doesn't go your way, a bloop hit, an error that maybe somebody in the field makes, and still play at a high level to absorb that and come out on top. So I don't think it's anything that should be expanded in baseball."

When the limited replay system was adopted, Selig vowed it would not be expanded so long as he was commissioner. He restated his position this week but declined to declare the issue dead once and for all.

"I will never say never to anything," he said.

Yet, in his daily conversations with owners and general managers, he said expanded replay has not come up.

Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said he would not support expanding instant replay at this time.

"It's very, very hard to make that move," he said. "You have to respect the integrity of the umpires."

However, he said with a laugh, he would not object should baseball eventually broaden the replay system. It might save him a few arguments, a few ejections, and the fines that come with them.

"I spend all my money paying my fines," he said, "every time they throw me out of the game."


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