MLB History

How Major League Baseball Could Implement Instant Replay...Right Now

DENVER - AUGUST 23:  Second base umpire Jim Joyce oversees the action between the Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on August 23, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Giants 4-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Jeff LeadbeaterContributor IJune 3, 2010

Everybody's seen it by now, how Armando Galarraga got stiffed out of a perfect game by one of the worst calls in MLB history.

We need to make sure this never happens again. By now, even baseball purists are calling for the expansion of instant replay.

That expansion could happen today if Major League Baseball and the World Umpires Association wanted to get it done. We already have the technology in place with replay implemented for "boundary calls" (i.e. whether or not a ball is a home run).

I have come to believe that a model similar to the NFL is doable for MLB. Distribute replay flags to every manager, and give each team two replays per game on non-boundary calls. The following calls would fall into this category:

  • Whether a catch for an out is "on the fly" or a "trap"
  • Whether a ball put in play is fair or foul
  • Who beat who to the bag on force-out plays
  • Whether a tag was made in time or not on tag-out plays
  • Whether a pitch hit a batter or not

Boundary calls for possible home runs will remain unlimited, and not affect the number of non-boundary replays a team gets.

The following would not qualify for replay, and would not be reviewable:

  • Balls and strikes
  • Whether or not a fan interfered with a ball in a non-boundary call
  • Balks
  • Catcher's interference
  • Whether an individual play was a hit or an error

A flag must be thrown before the first pitch of the next plate appearance is made. If a flag is thrown inappropriately, that team will be assessed a ball (if it's the team on defense) or a strike (if it's the team up to bat). If it is thrown for balls and strikes, it's grounds for ejection under the "arguing balls and strikes" rule.

Replays on boundary calls have tended to range three to five minutes normally. An initial time limit of five minutes from the umpires leaving the field can be implemented, and adjusted accordingly as the system is put into practice.

Umpires may feel a bit offended by having to defer more to instant replay at first. NFL referees felt the same way. But I'm sure if any umpire wants instant replay expanded, it's Jim Joyce. He's a well-respected game official who has seen two World Series (1999 and 2001), and has been involved in a host of historic moments, including Nolan Ryan's 5,000th strikeout. And now he'll be remembered as the umpire who blew "that call."

Armando Galarraga may not officially have his perfect game. And whether or not he should get it anyway is a discussion for another time. But his moment may, at least, be remembered as the watershed that finally brought a more complete implementation of instant replay to Major League Baseball.

Hopefully, we won't see history get robbed from us like this anymore.

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