Baseball unveils state-of-the-art replay center
Plays will be analyzed by at least one umpire and one trained technician
NEW YORK -- It's called the Replay Operations Center, a 900-square-foot room at the offices of Major League Baseball Advanced Media in the historic Chelsea Market building. It's a technological marvel, outfitted with state-of-the-art video equipment. And it's the nerve center of Major League Baseball's expanded replay system.
Beginning Sunday, every play of every game this season that is subject to review will be analyzed in this room by at least one umpire and one trained technician. Whenever a manager formally challenges a call, or after the sixth inning, if the umpires on the field simply want a second opinion, this is where the ultimate decisions will be made.
Chris Marinak, senior director, labor economy, and Justin Klemm, director of replay, explained the new system and then demonstrated its capabilities for more than two dozen reporters. Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, joined by conference call. He was on the committee, along with fellow manager (and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee) Tony La Russa and Braves president John Schuerholz, that devised the replay expansion.
Among the most impressive parts of the presentation were the statistics MLB compiled which showed how few "clear and convincing incorrect calls" were made by umpires in 2013. By MLB's reckoning, there were only 377 out of some 50,000 that merited review. Only 27 times did it happen twice in a game. On just three occasions, it happened three times, never against the same team.
Then Klemm, playing the replay official, and Marinak, standing in for the umpire at the game, went through a mock review process for two plays.
Each umpire will sit at a replay station on the right side of a cubicle with two high-definition monitors in front of him. To his left will be a technician with several smaller shots of various angles.
When Klemm noticed a close play, he immediately began asking the tech for different angles. So he was already in the process of reviewing potential challenges even before Marinak, on his own headset, alerted him that an appeal had been made.
After Klemm made his decision, he informed Marinak on the headset and the "game umpire" repeated it back to him, just to be certain there was no misunderstanding.
The replay official has three possible calls. Confirmed: If replay shows clear evidence that the umps got it right. Stands: The replay was too close to tell one way or the other. Overturned: If there is inarguable evidence that a mistake was made.
While this is going on, teams will now be allowed to show close plays on their video boards. If calls are confirmed or overturned, the technician will then forward the decisive angle to the stadium so that it can be shown on the scoreboard as well as on the television broadcasts. To further add transparency and fan-friendliness, a written explanation of the decision will be posted on MLB.com.
On, say, a Sunday night, there may be only one umpire working. But at any given time there may be six umpires and even more technicians available. And one of the added-value expectations, once a challenge is registered, is the belief that one or more umpires who do not have a replay of their own at the moment will slide over and add more eyes to the play.
Klemm, who expects to be at the Replay Operations Center almost every day, worked as a Minor League umpire for nine years and had served in various executive capacities before being named replay director.
It remains to be seen how often plays are challenged, but about half the test games in Spring Training didn't have any appeals. Torre is old school, but he repeated Wednesday that he became convinced of the need for change after a missed call at second base during a Tigers-Yankees postseason game two Octobers ago.
"I sort of like the game the way it was," Torre said with a laugh. "But there was a play at second base. And it was missed. There was a lot of conversation and stuff written about that play as opposed to the game itself. The one thing I didn't want to have happen was to have something like that take center stage over the game itself. That's when I realized that we certainly can't ignore the technology."
It's Torre's guess that most challenges will be upheld on the basis of inconclusive evidence. And in the presentation it was surprising how many plays were too close to call, even with multiple angles and the best high-definition replays possible.
The guess is also that managers will only use their challenges on plays that have a chance to impact the outcome. While pace of game remains a concern, Torre noted that this is an issue that extends beyond replay.
"I think you have to do it in conjunction with the pace of game," Torre said. "We've had rules in place for a while. And I think in order to make this thing work and not have it make the games longer, we're going to have to really start disciplining and paying attention to repeat violators. It's not that we're going to hold you to the second. But if there's a particular pitcher, for instance, who may be a habitual violator of the time to get ready to pitch, we will certainly address that.
"We don't want to change the game, just make it fairer and better."