A year has passed since Major League Baseball general managers voted 25-5 to further study the use of instant replay, and it was implemented Aug. 28 and made available through the postseason. Umpires took advantage of modern technology and utilized instant replay seven times in 2008 -- resulting in five upheld calls and two that were overturned.
According to GMs and Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, as well as feedback from fans and media, the program carefully considered and authorized by Commissioner Bud Selig has been a success.
"We think that it went flawlessly this year," Solomon said. "We think it's been a tremendous program."
Umpires can utilize video replay to review a contested home run on three grounds: fair or foul, in or out of the ballpark, and fan interference. After a couple of calls outside those parameters by umpires in this year's World Series were shown to be incorrect (a non-hit batter worked against the Phillies and an uncalled tag at third worked against the Rays), some pundits wondered whether there might be a push for wider use of the technology in the not-too-distant future.
Truth be told, that notion hasn't surfaced in any meaningful proposal to date. The idea of expanding instant replay, in other words, would face considerable opposition and is fodder for another time.
"First of all, I can tell you the Commissioner has no interest in expanding it," Solomon said at the GM Meetings last week in Dana Point, Calif. "And in fact, up until recently, he had no interest in putting instant replay in. But we've got to do baby steps with this. I don't think we're going to expand it at all."
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels agreed. "I think the Commissioner's position has been pretty clear -- he wants its use limited. I'm sure the industry will review it at some point, but right now [the current structure] is a significant step in the right direction. It was such a limited sample being introduced so late in the year. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the course of a full season. I thought it was executed as well as possible."
That very success, naturally, triggers casual debate on any merits of expanding instant replay.
"There had been a proposal when we first started putting this together a year or two ago to consider the foul lines, but that was seen by the GMs as being a little too much, because you have to realize one other program that's very important to us is the pace of the game," Solomon said. "We do not want to get to the point where instant replay has a negative impact on the pace of game. We averaged just under two minutes and 30 seconds from the time that the play went to instant replay to the time we got the decision."
Getting it right: Instant replay in 2008
|Sept. 3||St. Petersburg||A home-run call on a ball hit by Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees is upheld. Watch|
|Sept. 9||Houston||A double call on a ball hit by Houston's Hunter Pence is upheld. Watch|
|Sept. 19||St. Petersburg||Umpires reverse their initial double call on a home run by Carlos Pena of the Rays. Watch|
|Sept. 23||Houston||A single call on a ball hit by Cincinnati's Joey Votto is upheld. Watch|
|Sept. 24||Seattle||A foul-ball call on a ball hit by Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels is upheld. Watch|
|Sept. 26||Philadelphia||A home-run call on a ball hit by the Nationals' Kory Casto is upheld.|
|Sept. 26||San Francisco||Umpires reverse their initial single call on Giants catcher Bengie Molina's two-run homer. Watch|
Let it stand: Plays not reviewed
|The Phillies and the Rays broke even on two World Series calls not eligible for review|
|Oct. 24||St. Petersburg||Jimmy Rollins is grazed by a pitch but not awarded first base in Game 2 of the World Series. Watch|
|Oct. 27||Philadelphia||Rays third baseman Evan Longoria tags Rollins in a rundown, but Rollins is called safe in Game 4. Watch|
Aforementioned calls like those in the recently completed postseason led some to question whether limited expansion of replay would be wise.
Both of the calls in the World Series involved Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who was not awarded first base despite a pitch grazing his jersey in Game 2, and was ruled safe at third base in Game 4 despite replays showing that he was tagged well ahead of time by Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.
"I've got thoughts on that, but I'm not going to provide them at this juncture," Indians GM Mark Shapiro said. "It's safe to say that I've been an advocate of [replay] since Day 1. I do think there are limits as to how it should be used. But ultimately, where it can be applied quickly, be applied efficiently and easily with almost certain accuracy in decision-making, with a clear set of boundaries, I think it should be used."
The current form will continue at least another season, as GMs learned in their briefing on the topic in Dana Point.
Whether it should be tweaked or expanded is something, as Solomon said, that will be tabled for the time being. The GMs, however, agreed instant replay passed with flying colors in the first season. Even those opposed to instant replay a year ago have come around to the concept of using video to verify certain calls.
"It's worked out well so far, and I hope it continues to work the way it has," Astros GM Ed Wade said. "I was an opponent of it last year, because I was concerned about what it would do from the standpoint of the pace of game and that it would create a slippery slope. But in all honesty, I thought it worked well in the limited use that we had and the few occurrences that we had."
All televised MLB games are monitored and staffed by an expert technician and either an umpire supervisor or a former umpire at Major League Baseball Advanced Media headquarters in New York. A television monitor and a secure telephone link to MLBAM, placed next to the monitor, have been installed at all 30 ballparks.
If the crew chief determines that instant-replay review is necessary, he calls the MLBAM technician, who then transmits all desired video footage to the crew chief and the umpire crew on site. The umpire supervisor or former umpire does not have direct communication with any of the umpires on site, and the decision to reverse a call is at the sole discretion of the crew chief.
The standard used by the crew chief when reviewing a play is whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the umpire's decision on the field was incorrect and should be reversed.
Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington, whose Pirates were involved in a replay at Houston, said the process went smoothly.
"It was a borderline call where the umpires got together and reviewed the video, and it didn't slow the game down," Huntington said. "They didn't slow the game down, and they got it right. I think they've found a good jumping-off point. I think from a fair or foul, home run or not, game-changing, score-changing play ... I think it can have a good application."
Shapiro was an advocate from the start.
"I think I feel now like I felt a year ago: that the technology is out there for us to be sure we get calls right, calls that impact pennants and impact championships," Shapiro said. "I think we've taken a step toward that. I'd like to see it over [a] whole season."
San Diego's Kevin Towers has been pleased with the program so far, but count him among those who do not want to see it expanded.
"I think it's pretty good the way it is. And if you expand the use, you're going to slow the game down, and the games are long enough as it is," Towers said. "Home runs and interference, those are the big plays in baseball. If you start looking at whether he was safe at first or a tag at the plate, that might be a little too excessive."
Wade is another who would prefer to keep instant replay in its current form.
"I'm a big believer that we have the best umpires in sports, the best officials in sports," he said. "I would hate to see an environment created where we take a lot of the decision-making processes out of their hands. But again, things worked well this season, and hopefully they'll work well going forward."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.