Managers would not initiate instant replay under current plan

Updated: June 15, 2008, 11:01 AM ET
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

In an instant replay plan currently being considered by Major League Baseball, video review of disputed calls would take place at a central location and would be the responsibility of the umpire crew chief at each game, according to an umpires' union memo obtained by ESPN The Magazine.

Umpires' Memo On
Instant Replay

The following is the text of a memo to Major League Baseball umpires from their union outlining how the instant replay system currently being considered by MLB might work:

Major League Baseball is proposing to roll out an instant replay system as early as this summer. Here is a summary of the system that is currently being considered by the league:

How soon does MLB want to implement instant replay?
August 1, 2008.

What calls would be subject to instant replay?
Whether possible homers are fair or foul. So-called "boundary" calls -- whether balls clear fences, leave playing fields, hit poles, or are affected by fan interference.

Is instant replay mandatory in these situations?
No, instant replay will be available for use at the sole discretion of the crew chief if there is uncertainty among the crew as to what happened.

What camera feeds will be available for instant replay?
Whatever feeds are available for each game  television broadcast feeds, home and visiting team feeds, and MLB.com feeds.

How will instant replay work?
MLB is in the process of setting up an instant replay video "war" room at MLB Advanced Media's offices. The war room will be staffed by a replay official (at this point, MLB is saying that there will be only one replay official on duty at any one time) and several video technicians. At least initially, and for an undetermined period of time thereafter, the eight current group supervisors will take turns serving as the replay official for one week every couple of months or so. Later, it is anticipated that there will be a transition to former umpires, who would be properly trained as replay officials.

In the event a crew chief decides to use instant replay, the crew chief would use a dedicated communications link that will be available in each ball park to contact the replay official. The replay official will tell the crew chief what the replay official sees on the video replay or replays. The replay official will only report what he sees on the replay video or videos, and will not offer any advice or recommendation as to what the call should be. Based on all the information available to the crew chief (including what the crew saw in real time, and what the replay official sees on video), the crew chief will decide whether there is "clear and convincing evidence" that the original call by the crew is correct or incorrect. The original call would be reversed only if the crew chief felt there was a "clear error" on the original call.

The effect of any overturned call (for example, the placement of runners and the batter) would be governed by all current rules, any new rules specifically developed in connection with instant replay, and the crew chief's judgment.

There would be no limit on the number of times that a crew chief could use instant replay in a game, but MLB believes that instant replay would be used only about 10 times per season.

A crew chief's decision to use or not use instant replay on a particular call would be final, and not subject to second-guessing by team or league personnel. Team personnel would not have any right to demand instant replay.

A crew chief's decision on a call after using instant replay would be final and not subject to further challenge or dispute by team personnel.

Major League Baseball is attempting to institute instant replay on home run calls before the end of this season, according to two sources familiar with those discussions. However, in order to accomplish that, MLB still needs to settle on a replay system that would satisfy everyone involved, from the umpires to commissioner Bud Selig.

An outline of how instant replay might work was detailed in the memo, which was sent to umpires by their union this week. On Friday, USA Today first reported the umpires were advised that instant replay could be in use as soon as Aug. 1.

Major League Baseball officials said Friday that the details of the plan being discussed are still preliminary.

If the replay plan laid out in the memo is adopted, it will differ significantly from what is used in the National Football League, because major league managers would have no power to prompt a replay. In the NFL, head coaches initiate the use of replay, except in the last two minutes of each half, when league officials determine which calls should be reviewed.

According to the memo, the replay will not be done on-site at each ballpark, but in a replay war room at Major League Baseball's Advanced Media offices in New York. The chief of each umpiring crew would have means to communicate with the war room directly.

The memo lays out the following ground rules, according to the current proposal:

• An umpire supervisor would serve as a replay coordinator, and would communicate with the crew chief.

• The umpires would have access to all video feeds -- television broadcast feeds, home and visiting feeds, and MLB.com. This would allay concerns that a home team television producer would serve as a filter for what replays the umpires can see.

• It is expected that retired umpires eventually will play some role in replay supervision.

• Major League Baseball believes replay would be used only about 10 times each season.

According to the memo, the replay official would tell the crew chief what the replay official sees on the video replay or replays -- and would not offer any advice or recommendation as to what the call should be. The crew chief would then decide whether there is "clear and convincing evidence" that the original call by the crew is correct or incorrect. The original call would be reversed only if the crew chief felt there was a "clear error" on the original call.

Furthermore, the crew chief's decision to use or not use instant replay on a particular call would be final, and not subject to second-guessing by team or league personnel. Team personnel would not have any right to demand instant replay.

The crew chief's decision on a call after using instant replay would also be final.

As recently as a few weeks ago, baseball officials were still talking about experimenting with replay during the Arizona Fall League, the World Baseball Classic and spring training before implementing it in the big leagues. But so many people within the sport have reached the conclusion that replay is now inevitable, they're pushing to get it in place as soon as possible.

Their thinking, according to the same sources, is that if there no longer is any serious opposition to the principle of using replay to decide home run calls, it would be embarrassing to the sport to have a big game down the stretch, or in October, decided by a blown home run call. They're hoping to settle on specifics that would be acceptable to Selig, the umpires' union and the players' union.

However, a source told ESPN.com he believes the umpires are in favor of replay as long as it's done in a way that protects and supports them. And while Selig still hasn't given the go-ahead, it's believed he would support a system that would preserve the character of the sport and not delay games significantly.

The idea of replay has gained momentum after umpires botched several home run rulings on national TV in May.

At Yankee Stadium, umpires reversed their correct call and concluded a home run by the Mets' Carlos Delgado was foul.

The following night in Houston, umpires mistakenly ruled a ball off a center-field wall was in play, prompting a reconfiguration at Minute Maid Park the next day.

And, again at Yankee Stadium, a ball hit by Alex Rodriguez that struck a stairway beyond the outfield fence and bounced back into the outfield was ruled a double when it should have been a home run.

In November, general managers voted 25-5 to try replay on boundary calls. At the time, Selig took the recommendation under advisement.

Selig, like many of the game's traditionalists, has always liked the human element of baseball, and that meant tolerating an occasional wrong call by an umpire. He also worried about further bogging down a sport that has been criticized for its slow pace.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. ESPN.com senior writer Jayson Stark and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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