After a rough week for umpires, calls for instant replay gaining momentum

Updated: May 20, 2008, 11:13 PM ET
Associated Press

Chipper Jones has seen enough. Now he wants baseball to take a closer look -- at instant replay.

"Anything to get calls right," the Atlanta star said Tuesday.

A lot of fans are saying the same thing after umpires botched a pair of home-run rulings on national TV.

On Sunday night, umps at Yankee Stadium reversed their correct call and concluded a shot by Carlos Delgado of the Mets was foul. On Monday night, umps in Houston mistakenly ruled a ball off a center-field wall was in play, prompting a reconfiguration at Minute Maid Park the next day.

The NFL, NBA, NHL, some NCAA sports and major tennis tournaments all use a form of replay. Baseball has resisted a switch, worried it would become too pervasive and further bog down games.

Then there's tradition. Always a sticking point for the national pastime.

"What makes the game good is the human element of it. The mistakes. Like the strike zone," Mets reliever Billy Wagner said. "Those are human decisions. If it's right or wrong, you just go with it."

Last November, general managers voted 25-5 to try replay on boundary calls -- whether possible homers are fair or foul, if balls actually clear fences, whether there's fan interference.

"I voted for it at every general manager's meeting since it first came up," Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams said.

"I hope people are taking notice. It's a different age. The review process on any disputed calls will take much less time than some of these arguments. Everyone should have a vested interest in getting the call right."

The recommendation went to commissioner Bud Selig, but had no binding effect or time frame. Nor did it include an idea on how to use it: Do teams get to challenge or do umpires decide?

"The commissioner has taken it under advisement," spokesman Rich Levin said Tuesday.

Selig has never favored replay.

"The commissioner is not a fan of it," baseball executive Bob Watson said in Houston. "He calls instant replay umpires getting together and trying to get the call right. That is instant replay in his estimation."

Still, many in baseball believe that replay could get a trial in the next year or two, possibly during spring training or in the minors.

"We'd be all in favor of listening to whatever proposals they might have," veteran ump John Hirschbeck, president of the umpires' union, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

To them, a big problem is the trend of new ballparks with quirky dimensions, odd angles and yellow lines. Gone are the days when balls that cleared the fences were homers, balls that bounced back were all-you-can-get.

"One of the things that they talk about in stadiums nowadays is fan appeal, and fan appeal means trouble for umpires," Hirschbeck said. "For years, we've said, if you want to make it simple, put a basket just like the Cubs have. It would make our lives a lot easier."

"They want to have all these cuts and different things in the outfield wall. It makes it next to impossible. You can run out as far as you can run. You can be set and staring right at it, and people don't realize it's still very, very difficult to tell. One split second that ball touches somewhere and you try to take a mental picture, but it's very difficult," he said.

That's what happened on the ball that Geovany Soto of the Cubs hit Monday night at Houston. Funny thing, he wound up with an inside-the-park home run.

Yet on Tuesday, Watson was on hand as workers removed a piece of wood in center field that was painted yellow.

"There's no need for that type of confusion at a big league ballpark," he said.

Doesn't have to be so tough, said Paul Hawkins. He lives in England and hasn't watched a lot of baseball, but does have a very good view on this subject.

He developed the Hawk-Eye technology that brought replay to Grand Slam tennis. Accurate to within 3 millimeters -- an error margin equal to the width of a ball's fuzz -- his systems are used in international cricket and have been tested in British soccer.

"It is frustrating when I watch an official's call that is wrong that could be corrected," he said from his office. "I mean, the goal is to get it right."

"Baseball has shied away from technology since their horrendous trial with using Questec to call strikes-balls. The problem there was not so much that the idea was bad, but the specific technology/company were not up to the job. But once bitten, twice shy," he said.

Hawkins said it would be easy to adapt his computers to track fair-foul calls. That is, if baseball asked. No offers, so far.

"It would be as if the Metropolitan police or the New York City police decided that they didn't want to use forensic methods that are available, that they wanted to only rely on the old ways of doing police work," he said. "If the police said that, it would be like, 'You what?"

Makes sense to Derek Jeter.

"I think fair or foul maybe would be good," the Yankees shortstop said. "It depends on what you're replaying, how much you would replay. Are you doing do it once an inning? Do you throw the red flag like in football?"

With six decades in broadcasting, Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully remembers the days before television replays illuminated every umpire's call. He could see using it on a limited basis.

"Where it involves the physical layout of the ballpark -- the foul poles, the foul lines, a fan possibly interfering, I don't see what would be wrong with that at all. But I wouldn't like it on balls and strikes -- I wouldn't even want it on close plays," he said.

Reds star Ken Griffey Jr. had mixed feelings.

"That's up to the owners and everybody else to vote on," he said. "I mean, how many times has it happened over the last five years -- a handful of times?"

Then again, the slugger with nearly 600 career home runs said he couldn't ever remember a bad call costing him.

"Hopefully when I hit them, there's no doubts," he said.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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