PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Ever since the game was invented, before television or 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 on Thursday vaulted into the 21st century of technology, 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, players and umpires approved 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.
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.
Not that managers haven’t still occasionally bolted from the dugout, 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, such as the one at third base in St. Louis that ended Boston’s loss in Game 3 of the World Series in 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.
The umpires on the field will be able to talk to the command center. The replay umpire will make the final decision — that could include where to place runners if, for instance, a call is reversed from out to safe on a trapped ball in the outfield.
Managers and others in the dugout can communicate by phone with someone in the clubhouse who can watch the videos and advise whether to challenge a call.
“I’m excited to see how it works out. I am interested to see how the flow of the game is affected,” Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said.
Replay umpires will make their final rulings in no more than a minute to 90 seconds, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre estimated.
“With our technology today we can do that in a way I don’t think we will interrupt the flow of the game,” Bochy said.
To make reviews uniform, cameras will transit 12 angles from each ballpark.
Torre said the number of manager challenges were limited to a maximum of two to maintain “the rhythm of the game.”