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Expanded replay blends tradition with technology

MLB explains how calls will get reviewed at the BAM headquarters in Manhattan @RichardJustice

NEW YORK -- One thing instant replay is going to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt: Major League Baseball's umpires are very, very good.

"This is going to be a great thing for the umpires," Jim Leyland said the other day. "We're going to find out how good they are. Most of us already knew it. Now everyone will."

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, 172 miles of video cable have been installed around the country and 42 tons of equipment shipped to baseball's 30 ballparks.

Major League Baseball unveiled the finishing touches on Wednesday by giving reporters a tour of its 900-square-foot Replay Operations Center at Major League Baseball Advanced Media headquarters in Chelsea Market.

With 37 high-def monitors and instant communication to every ballpark, umpires and technicians will monitor the video feeds of every game.

In 2,431 games last season, big league umpires missed 377 calls, according to a review done by Major League Baseball.

Take a moment to wrap your mind around those numbers. Wait, it gets better. There were a mere 27 games when umpires missed at least two calls.

Three misses? That happened three times.

So, yes, umpires do miss calls. One every 6.4 games. That's not perfection, but it reflects an extremely high level of proficiency.

If you're wondering why every manager will be limited to two challenges a game, here's a good reason. There wasn't a single game last season -- again, that's out of 2,431 -- in which three missed calls went against one team.

Here's another part of the story. Umpires are happy about the expanded use of instant replay.

"Thrilled," Leyland said.

Umpires aren't hesitant to have Big Brother looking over their shoulder, because that was already happening.

"They've been going out there with stress they shouldn't have," Leyland said. "That stress is going to be gone."

High-definition television has magnified every misstep, and then those missteps show up on your smartphone, tablet and television within seconds.

Umpires don't miss many calls, but when they do, it ripples across talk radio and all the platforms in which content is delivered. Some terrific umpires have had their careers defined by one blown call, and that's ridiculous.

As Joe Torre, one of the architects of the system, said, he hated how one missed call would become the story of some postseason games.

"I didn't want to have something like that take center stage over the game itself," Torre said.

There's a good chance those days are long gone, or at least, they'll be extremely rare. They were already rare, but perception and reality sometimes have an odd relationship.

All of this is the backdrop for a historic day, one of those days in which baseball will be changed forever. That's the byproduct of the sport beginning expanded use of instant replay in the 2014 regular season, a giant step forward for fans, players, managers, coaches and everyone who cares about or works inside the game.

There's a decent chance your friendly local manager will never again leave the ballpark thinking he was beaten by a blown call. Those may still happen, because no system is perfect, but it will be extremely rare.

Managers will begin games with one challenge, and if they get a call overturned, they'll get another. From the seventh inning on, umpires will have the option of reviewing plays on their own.

Baseball is cautioning that the system won't be perfect. Braves president John Schuerholz said he sees it as a three-year project of beginning with one system and then adjusting it as flaws surface.

Major League Baseball officials have poured themselves into the project the past two years to come up with guidelines for its use and to construct an infrastructure that will deliver decisions quickly and accurately.

When a manager challenges a call, umpires will appeal to an umpire working at BAM headquarters, and with the assistance of a technician, he'll examine video of the play from different angles. The review umpire will communicate his assessment to the on-site umpire. At that time, BAM will send the decisive video to the home ballpark for broadcast on the scoreboard, along with the text message description of the play.

It has been fascinating to see how different clubs have approached the new system. For instance, the Orioles hired a former umpire to give manager Buck Showalter what he hopes will be a more dispassionate decision.

Baseball has installed monitors for the home and visiting teams in each ballpark for the club replay guy to monitor. Once a bad call is seen, the manager is notified by telephone or hand signal that he should challenge the call.

Tony La Russa, who helped devise the system, said he envisions it being used for the dramatic, game-changing call. But it could also be used to challenge the very first missed call of the game since statistics show there aren't all that many of them anyway.

"The managers have something they've never had before, and they can use it like a strategy," Torre said.

Regardless of how it plays out, it's intent is clear. Baseball will blend this game with all its rich history and tradition with the technology of 2014. The bottom line is that the game will be better for it. In the end, that's all that matters.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.