Instant replay makes debut at Wrigley
Cubs' Piniella, DeRosa, Hendry all in favor of new system
CHICAGO -- There was no red "hotline" phone near one of the Wrigley Field dugouts Thursday or a designated TV camera with a privacy hood. Instead, mounted discretely onto a wall in the umpires' room located behind the Cubs' dugout, was a metal cabinet with a flat screen TV and a phone inside. It signals the start of instant replay.
"I think it's a good idea," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We have all the confidence in the world in the umpires to do their job very professionally or very accurately, but if there's an instance where [instant replay] can help get a play right, I see no reason why the umpires can't use that resource."
Thursday marked the first day instant replay was to be used at Major League ballparks, including Wrigley Field, where the Cubs played host to the Phillies. Umpire supervisor Larry Young was at the ballpark to make sure everything functioned correctly.
Instant replay will only be used to determine home run calls in case there is a disputed boundary calls, or fan interference, or a question as to whether a ball is fair or foul. If umpires have a doubt, they will huddle and it will be up to the crew chief to decide whether to go with the umpires' decision, or check a replay.
If a play is to be reviewed, the crew chief and at least one other umpire, possibly two, will go into the room and pick up a phone, which is a direct line to a video room in New York run by MLB Advanced Media. Then, the umpires will be relayed feeds from both the home and away teams' television broadcasts, and possibly use the home team's in-house feed, if necessary. An umpire supervisor will be in New York, but only to serve as a technical advisor as to what feeds are needed, and will not assist in making the call.
There is no set time for these decisions, but Young said they want to make a determination in 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
Don't expect to see Piniella throwing a red flag onto the field to ask for a review the way NFL coaches do. The Cubs manager did say he could suggest or request the umpires review the call, but added, "It's up to the crew chief to make up his mind as to whether they want to use it or not."
"A manager does not have a right to demand," Young said. "It's strictly up to the crew chief whether we go to the replay or not."
How often did Young think instant replay would be needed? MLB has monitored calls this year, and he said they've identified only 18 plays out of the more than 3,900 games played. However, five of those instances occurred in one week.
"We want to get the play right, and that's our main thing," Young said. "Every day we go out there and try to be perfect and it's almost impossible to do. This is going to aid us in that quest."
"I like it," Chicago's Mark DeRosa said, "as long as it doesn't go from home runs and then lead into different areas. I think the human element of it is what makes it special. The ballparks now, today, are so tough to tell whether a ball's a homer or not.
"I know if I hit a ball, and it's a home run and it gets called a double, and they go to replay and they change it, I'm going to be excited. If it's reversed, it's one of those things where it shouldn't have been a home run in the first place."
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry originally was against the idea of instant replay, but said he changed his mind.
"Once the umpires felt it was appropriate, how could you vote against that?" Hendry said. "In the past, I was a purist and didn't want it to change. If the umpires feel it's helping them, I'm all for it."
On May 19 at Houston, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto hit a ball off the left-center-field wall at Minute Maid Park. Soto didn't stop as the ball caromed, and had an inside-the-park home run. Replays showed the ball cleared the yellow line, and was a legit home run. Soto didn't have to run that hard.
"There's just too many balls this year that have been so tough for the umpires and puts them in bad positions where they go home at night and look at the replay," DeRosa said. "Maybe they got it right, or maybe they got it wrong, and that's the outcome. It takes a little pressure off them [the umpires], and it gets the call right."
There aren't too many disputed calls at Wrigley Field, but Young said the ballpark has its own quirks because of the baskets that rim the outfield wall.
"Wrigley Field is a tough place to work," Young said. "People think that because of the net or basket that there are no calls. One of the toughest calls I had to make was on a ball hit to right field, whether it hit in the net or the support and came back. That would be one that would be reviewable.
"The ball can hit in the net here and bounce out," he added. "It can hit in the net and bounce between the wall and the basket. We had a couple last year where fans actually reached across the basket, and all of those would be reviewable."
Once the crew chief reviews a call and makes a decision, that's it.
"The final outcome is not something that can be debated," Young said. "When we come back with a ruling from the video replay, there's no argument, unless it involves spectator interference and then the manager is entitled to an explanation."
Young began his umpire career in 1985 in the American League and retired after the 2007 season. He's very much in favor of instant replay.
"I think we're ready," he said. "I think this is the time. The technology is there. We had one week when there were five of these calls. The time for replay is here and now."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.