MLB Dips Its Toe Into World Of Instant Replays

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On Thursday, for the first time ever, Major League Baseball will use a limited instant-replay system to review questionable homeruns. Buster Olney, of ESPN The Magazine, says this season's rash of bad calls led to the decision.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Tomorrow, Major League Baseball steps boldly into the 1980s. Back in 1986, the National Football League introduced instant replay. It has since abolished it and then readopted it. Professional hockey did it in 1991.

But over the years, baseball has resisted. Remember this moment? The 1996 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, New York's Derek Jeter at bat, Baltimore's Tony Tarasco in right field. Unbeknownst to them, 12-year- old Yankee fan Jeffrey Maier in the stands reaching out with his glove, and an incredulous Bob Costas doing play-by-play for NBC.

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BLOCK: In right field, Tarasco going back to the track, to the wall. And what happens here? He contains that a fan reaches out and touches it. But Richie Garcia says no. It's a homerun. Here comes Davey Johnson out to argue if Jeter comes across to tie the game.

SIEGEL: Now, within a minute, everyone watching the game could see by instant replay that young Maier had interfered with Jeter's hit. The umpire hadn't seen it so it was called a homerun.

Baseball, being a conservative enterprise says evidently now weighed the evidence sufficiently and is dipping its toe into this late 20th century technology. Starting tomorrow, instant replay will be used in certain specified cases.

Buster Olney covers baseball for ESPN The Magazine and joins us. Buster, what cases will they use instant replay for?

BLOCK: Only in calls involving disputed homeruns. And unlike the NFL where a coach draws out a flag, you're going to have a situation where the crew chief, if there's a question about a homerun, whether or not the ball was out or not out or if it hit the foul pole on one side or went on the other side, the crew chief will descend into the stadium and be in contact with the war room back in New York and it will be the crew chief who will decide whether the ball was a homerun or not a homerun.

SIEGEL: So, the question, was it fair or fouled, did it clear the line or not? And was there fan interference, is that when - with the Jeffrey Maier case have been overturned presumably by instant replay?

BLOCK: Precisely. You know, the homeruns are such a dramatic and have such a high impact on games. This is where Major League Baseball, for now, has decided to draw the line on instant replay.

SIEGEL: Was the rash of bad calls this season what led to this finally?

BLOCK: No question about it. There was a Sunday night game on ESPN between the Mets and the Yankees and a disputed homerun call that was - turned out to be ruled incorrectly by the umpires. And in that week, there were three others as well.

And Major League Baseball, you know, foreseeing a potential situation in which a World Series game could be decided by, you know, an incorrect homerun call, you know, that's, I think, Major League Baseball rethink its very long stance of not having instant replay.

SIEGEL: Why not on tag plays? We've all seen runners called safe or out by the umpire only to see a replay disprove the umpire's call.

BLOCK: Well, there is definitely concern within Major League Baseball about adding time on to the games in reviewing instant replay. And I think there's concern that on a tag play, you know, you don't want to have a situation where you're adding 20 or 30 minutes to a game as an umpire goes into an umpire's room and talks to the war room back in New York before making a call.

SIEGEL: There's a fact about modern baseball parks also which is that they tend to have huge Jumbotrons in them. And you can see what just happened in the ballpark regardless of what the umpire said.

BLOCK: Yeah. And one umpire e-mailed me this summer and said, you know, we don't like seeing replay after replay of a missed homerun call more than anybody else does. That's the way it is now. People sitting at a couch at home know better than the people on the field and know quicker on the people in the field whether the homerun call is correct or incorrect.

SIEGEL: Well, Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine, thanks a lot for talking with us.

BLOCK: Thank you, Robert.

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