MLB ushers in instant replay
Umps didn't have opportunity to use new system on Thursday
The era of instant replay in Major League Baseball began without a glitch in three cities on Thursday night: umpires didn't have to use it.Home runs soared out of Chicago's Wrigley Field and Angel Stadium in Anaheim, but none of the five were debatable. For the first time, umpires could use replay to determine a contested homer on these three counts -- fair or foul, in or out of the ballpark and fan interference -- but not on Thursday. "It's such an infrequent occurrence," said A's manager Bob Geren, whose club defeated the Twins, 3-2, in a homerless game at McAfee Coliseum. "The umpires are so good and you have four of them out there. Very rarely will this really be used, in my opinion." Three four-game sets -- Phillies-Cubs, Twins-A's and Rangers-Angels -- all began on Thursday night. And by edict of Commissioner Bud Selig, they were the first in MLB history to have replay available even on such a limited basis. Twelve other teams concluded series in six cities earlier in the day and weren't included in the rollout. Because Selig determined that replay should be used only at the start of a series, it will be available at every site on Friday night as the other 24 teams open their weekend sets. The Phillies and Cubs, opening in the central time zone, were the first game to go online. And to mark the occasion, a flat screen television and a secure telephone land line to MLB Advanced Media in New York was implanted in a metal box hanging in the umpire's dressing room in the catacombs behind the Cubs dugout. "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."
The umpires didn't need it.Nary a homer had been hit into the "Friendly Confines" as the Phillies held a 4-1 edge going into the bottom of the eighth inning. Then lightning struck twice. Mike Fontenot led off with a homer against reliever Ryan Madson, who had just come into the game. It nestled without contest into the front rows of the bleachers to the left of center. Four batters later, Aramis Ramirez faced Chad Durbin with the bases loaded. This time, Ramirez's grand slam landed in the back of the bleachers in the same area, giving the NL Central-leading Cubs a come-from-behind, 6-4, victory. No contest. No replay. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry originally was against the concept, but 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." In Angel Stadium, if a replay had been needed on Thursday night, crew chief Dale Scott would have taken a short trip to an exit a few paces behind the plate, down a short flight of stairs, hung a right in the hallway and a quick left into the umpire's room. Once there, he would've used his new "Bat Phone" to call either an expert technician or umpire supervisor in New York to view the applicable replay clips on the TV in front of him. It would then have been up to his discretion whether to overturn the original call. "I think this is just a safety net for game-changing things that can happen if a ball is fair or foul and there's a limited [way] where it's worth the application," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "But past that, there's going to be no use at all for those kinds of things to change what's going on the field." Actually, there was no use for it all, period, on Thursday night. Three homers were hit early -- Milton Bradley in the first, Mark Teixeira in the third and Chris Davis in the fourth. The Bradley and Davis shots cleared the left-center field fence and Teixeira's bolt landed well into the right-field seats some distance away from the pole. No harm, no foul. By the way, the Angels came back in the bottom of the eighth to score five times without the aid of a homer to win, 7-5. In Oakland, the A's and Twins combined for 13 hits and the A's won in the bottom of the ninth on Kurt Suzuki's double. In the fairly symmetrical Coliseum, Geren mused that the replay machine might not be cranked into motion on many occasions. "At our ballpark, I don't see it happening too often," he said. "We don't have the railings where people can reach over. We don't have the wall where the seats are touching. Only the out-of-town-scoreboards and the foul-pole calls. I mean, now the poles are so high, and it's such a big screen built onto them. But some of the parks, there are difficult calls." Whether those calls were to be made on Thursday night, or into the remainder of the regular season and postseason, was fine with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "Maybe they can figure out if we have to tweak the system as we go along here," he said. "I think it's about getting it right more than anything. If it helps them get it right, [I'm fine with it]. I'll be anxious to see how many times they use it through the weekend. We'll see how it goes."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.