Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Updated: August 28, 1:44 PM ET
Wary of technology, Selig very much welcomes replay
By Jerry Crasnick
Bud Selig, although an energetic 74, freely admits he's one of the least tech-savvy executives you'll find. He likes the feel of a newspaper in his hands and lives an Amazon.com- and eBay-free existence. He also values the comfort of picking up a phone over the convenience of pushing a button and sending a text message lord knows where.
Major League Baseball's commissioner is open-minded, yet gadgetry-impaired.
"I'm not a technical expert," Selig said Tuesday afternoon, while describing himself as "old-fashioned" and an "amateur" on the subject.
But old-fashioned doesn't necessarily equate to being obstinate or being tolerant of mistakes that could easily be avoided. In the name of progress, fairness and disaster aversion, Selig is embracing the future with open arms.
Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that it will join the other major sports and introduce instant replay on a limited basis. The new system will go into effect with games in Oakland, in Anaheim and at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Thursday, then be implemented at all 15 of Friday's games.
After the obligatory dickering among MLB, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the umpires' union, the nuts and bolts are relatively simple: Replay will be limited strictly to home run calls. If an umpiring crew chief determines a review is in order, he'll call a technician at MLB headquarters in New York, who will transmit the video footage in question. The crew chief will determine whether the call on the field should stand or be overturned, and anyone who argues will get the Bobby Cox treatment up the dugout runway.
The decision might be cause for consternation among purists who envision longer games and Big Brother-like intrusion. These are the folks who actually found some charm in the folklore of 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier playing hooky from school and altering baseball history when he leaned over the Yankee Stadium wall to give Derek Jeter a home run in October 1996.
Selig, in contrast, came to the same conclusion that baseball's general managers reached when they recommended instant replay by a 25-5 vote in November. Ballparks today have odd configurations and murky demarcation lines that have made it more difficult to determine whether borderline home run balls actually reached the seats. Umpires don't run any faster or see any better than they did before the infusion of new parks, so something had to give.
Most important, Selig said, the "extraordinary" technology in place at MLB Advance Media in New York should make for a seamless transition. Selig saw no point in waiting until the Arizona Fall League or spring training to give the system a whirl, and he expressed no concerns about implementing it five months into the 2008 season.
"Some people thought we ought to wait until the postseason, and that struck me as really being awkward," Selig said. "I'd rather go into the postseason knowing we've already used it. To use one of my favorite lines, this isn't Einstein's theory of relativity. We have the best technology you can possibly have, and the procedures have been described in great detail. I wanted to do it as soon as possible."
During a 30-minute media conference call, Selig went to great lengths to stress that this is not the beginning of a slippery slope. Inevitably, assorted fans or media members will see a trapped ball in the outfield or watch a catcher pin a ball against the screen (they think) and lobby for expanded use of replay.
But that's not going to happen. The replay system begins and ends with home run balls -- fair vs. foul calls, fan interference and the question of whether a ball actually cleared the yellow line or the top of the fence.
"The sport has a pace to it where you have to be very sensitive," Selig said. "Even if this works well -- and there's no doubt it will -- it's sort of like the wild card a few years ago. First, people criticized it, and now they want more wild cards. Just because something works well, you don't go on to do more."
If you believe everybody wants the same result -- correct calls on the field -- then players, managers, umpires, fans, bloggers, columnists, historians, baseball lawyers, and everyone else at MLB and the players' association offices will be rooting for the new system to succeed. Anything that brings an end to the practice of befuddled umpires' conferring interminably on the infield grass is by nature a good thing.
"I'm for it," Mets outfielder Ryan Church said. "But the biggest question is, how long is it going to take? As long as it's in the flow and doesn't drag on, I think it will be good. The way it is now, with the umpires huddling and talking things over and the managers running out there, it may take 10, 15, 20 minutes just to get a call right. So hopefully, most of these calls will be obvious, and they'll get the call right, and it will be quick."
Selig even suggested that replay, used properly, might slightly reduce the length of games. We'll see whether there are bugs to be ironed out, but Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth doesn't think that's inevitable just because the new system is being introduced midseason.
"No, because in the end, they're just looking at a replay, just like we go [back to the clubhouse] and look at the replays ourselves," Werth said. "It's not like they're going to have to work in cameras that aren't already in use. We're already using them. So I think it will work out fine."
In the end, the advent of replay won't affect Selig's legacy in the same way as revenue sharing, baseball's ballpark construction boom, the wild-card system, labor peace, the World Baseball Classic, or record revenues and attendance. But if it prevents a World Series fiasco, everyone involved is going to look a little smarter and be a whole lot happier.
Bud Selig, the architect of technological innovation. Who could have envisioned that? Next thing you know, he'll be carrying around his own iPhone.
ESPN.com senior writer Jayson Stark contributed to this report.
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.
To use one of my favorite lines, this isn't Einstein's theory of relativity. We have the best technology you can possibly have, and the procedures have been described in great detail. I wanted to do it as soon as possible.