Galarraga Fiasco Reignites Fire Under MLB’s Instant-Replay Debate

The fallout from Wednesday night’s blown call in Armando Galarraga’s perfect-game bid has caused the longstanding debate over instant replay in baseball to boil over. Veteran umpire Jim Joyce’s ninth-inning gaffe has set off a firestorm of bad press, forcing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to examine the expanded use of instant replay.

“There’s no doubt now that there should be expanded replay,” says Tim Kurkjian, ESPN baseball analyst and senior writer for ESPN the Magazine. “I’ve been against expanded replay until the last six months or so when I realized that it is inevitable and that we had the technology to do it. After the events of [Wednesday’s game], I just can’t imagine Bud Selig being able to justify not having expanded replay. ”

While opinions may vary concerning replay’s expansion, one thing is clear: the technology is here to move forward. Sophisticated HD replay systems have become a staple of pro sports over the past decade, and Major League Baseball already uses video review for questionable home-run calls.

Time and Technology Are Right
“The technology is clearly there, and it’s clearly there in every way,” says Kurkjian. “I just think it’s time [for expanded replay]. Honestly, it is beyond time for it now. I certainly understand Bud Selig’s reticence about going to instant replay because it could open up some bad [possibilities]. But, with the technology we have, I think it’s time to at least experiment with this and try to figure it out.”

Should Selig and Major League Baseball elect to expand instant replay, a whole new series of debates will tip off regarding the best system to institute. Should managers have a certain number of challenges similar to the NFL’s? Should an extra umpire be added as a “replay official”? What aspects of the game should replay be used for? Which system is the fastest, to prevent lengthening already lengthy games?

“Somebody is going to have to come up with the proper mechanism to make this work, whether it’s a one-per-game challenge, or only on plays at the plate, or only plays at first, or something else,” says Kurkjian. “But I honestly don’t know how they’re going to do it yet. I’m still waiting for someone to come up with the perfect mechanism to make this work, because I certainly don’t have it and I haven’t heard the perfect idea yet.”

Centralized Replay System
The league’s current replay system for home-run calls is based in an operations center in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. When a crew chief elects to review a home-run call, he (and possibly another umpire) relies on a replay system near the field that features a small flat-screen monitor and telephone wired directly to the Chelsea facility. Replay technicians at the operations center supply the umpire with several replays (with zoom and slow-motion capabilities), which the crew chief uses to make the final decision.

There are currently no on-site instant-replay facilities at MLB ballparks aside from this monitor-phone system. This method is likely to fall by the wayside in favor of in-venue booths if replay is expanded to more facets of the game than just home runs.

Manager’s Challenge
A manager’s challenge system has been floated as a possible scenario. In this case, both managers would be allowed to challenge a certain number of calls per game (most likely, one or two), much like coaches in the NFL. While this would remedy some of the issues in today’s game, it also leaves room for potential holes.

“I’m not so sure about [the challenge system] unless somebody can tell me how to make it work,” says Kurkjian. “Is it one per game for a manager and that’s all he gets? What if he uses it up in the fifth inning on a big play and then the [Galarraga] play happens in the ninth and he doesn’t have [a challenge]? Then, the system is broken again. Also, the game moves slowly enough as it is. We’re trying to speed up the game, and, if you have multiple challenges during a game, it could do more harm than good.”

Umpires’ Call
The addition of a fifth umpire as a replay official is perhaps the most logical option at this point. Umpires would be trained to use the video system, and one would be positioned in a replay booth within the ballpark at every game. This official would have the right to signal on-field umps to stop the game if a call appears worth reviewing. This system would keep the process and final decision in the hands of the umpires, greatly appeasing the umpire’s union and preventing a potentially volatile relationship between the umpires and a third-party replay partner.

“I think a [replay umpire] is a great idea,” says Kurkjian. “Umpires should be the ones that are in charge of this. They would be looking after their own but at the same time helping each other. No one is better than an umpire on determining correct calls. They know the rules better than anyone. Just put one of them in a press box with a monitor and a toggle switch right in front of him — an eye-in-the-sky type of situation.”

Regardless of the final decision, the Galarraga-Joyce fiasco has catapulted instant replay back to the forefront of the baseball discussion, and the technology necessary to establish a new system will play a vital role in replay’s success or downfall.

“With maybe nothing more than an extra umpire in the booth with a monitor, something like [Wednesday night] could have been avoided,” says Kurkjian. “But, to me, [Wednesday night] will be known, among other things, as the impetus for replay coming to Major League Baseball in a much more expanded way.”

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