MLB approves expanded instant replay, challenge system

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Ever since the game was invented, before television or even radio existed, baseball counted on the eyes and ears of umpires on the field. Starting this season, many key decisions will be made in a studio far away.

Major League Baseball vaulted into the 21st century of technology on Thursday, approving a huge expansion of instant replay in hopes of eliminating blown calls that riled up players, managers and fans.

“I think it’s great,” San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s about getting it right.”

Acknowledging the human element had been overtaken in an era when everyone except the umps could see several views over and over in slow-motion, owners and players and umpires OKed the new system.

Now each manager will be allowed to challenge at least one call per game. If he’s right, he gets another challenge. After the seventh inning, a crew chief can request a review on his own if the manager has used his challenges.

“I tell you the fans will love it,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said after owners met and voted their unanimous approval. “It’s another in a long list of changes that will make this sport better than it already is.”

Baseball was the last major pro sport in North America to institute replay when it began late in the 2008 season. Even then, it was only used for close calls on home runs.

The NFL, NBA, NHL, some NCAA sports and major tennis tournaments all use a form of replay, and even FIFA and the English Premier League have adopted goal-line technology for soccer.

Not that managers won’t still occasionally bolt from the dugout, their veins bulging.

The so-called “neighborhood play” at second base on double plays cannot be challenged. Many had safety concerns for middle infielders being wiped out by hard-charging runners if the phantom force was subject to review.

Ball-and-strike calls can’t be contested. Neither can check-swings and foul tips. Nor can obstruction and interference rulings — those are up to the umpires’ judgment, like the one at third base in St. Louis that ended Boston’s loss in Game 3 of the World Series last October.

All reviews will be done by current MLB umpires at a replay center in MLB.com’s New York office. To create a large enough staff, MLB agreed to hire six new big league umpires and call up two minor league umps for the entire season. A seventh major league umpire will be added to replace the late Wally Bell.

In addition, managers and others in the dugout will be allowed to communicate by phone with someone in the clubhouse who can watch the videos and advise whether to challenge a call.

Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said work continues on a proposed rule that would ban home-plate collisions between runners and the catcher. The rule has not been written and talks on its content are ongoing between MLB representatives and the players union, he said.

Even since William McLean became the first professional umpire when he worked a Boston-Philadelphia National League game on April 22, 1876, baseball has celebrated its old-fashioned traditions. Having umpires make the calls on the field was one of them.

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