Umps' call on replay: not going to happen

Published September 29, 2006

There are ultra slow-mo cameras, cameras on the sideline, wireless cameras, cameras in the sky. As with other sports, as the Major League Baseball playoffs get under way next week, few corners of any stadium will be left unexplored by a lens.

Yet with all the high-tech doodads, fans are unlikely anytime soon to see one of the simplest technological advances, one that has made a difference in countless games in so many other sports: a comprehensive instant-replay system.

"Every year at the general managers' meetings, it's always a topic that is brought up, usually by a team that thought it was wronged the previous year," ESPN analyst Steve Phillips said this week. "Early on, only five or so GMs were in favor of it. Then it got to be up to 50-50. There are more general managers that would be in favor of it now to a certain degree. I'm not sure that Major League Baseball, with its relationship with the umpires, wants to go down that road."

ESPN analyst John Kruk said he thinks instant replay "would be a good idea with home run calls," since it's so hard for an umpire to see exactly where a line drive made it over the wall. But as for safe-or-out calls, balls or strikes? It won't happen, he said.

"The umpires are so into not showing replays of close plays that they will get on the phone between innings if they show a replay on the stadium scoreboard," Kruk said. "They'll call the press box and say, 'If that happens again, we're out of here.' That's how strongly they don't want to be proven wrong."

The umps - not to mention the announcers - will be back under the microscope starting Tuesday, when the MLB divisional series begin on ESPN and Fox. ESPN's Baseball Tonight will provide a playoffs preview with a three-hour special edition beginning Sunday at 8 p.m. Games begin Tuesday on both networks, with Fox once again pre-empting much of its fall programming until after the World Series.

Fox's top multi-tasker, play-by-play voice Joe Buck, is expected to call Tuesday's game alongside Tim McCarver, return to his duties as host of Fox NFL Sunday and as No. 1 NFL announcer next weekend, then move to baseball full time until after the World Series.

ESPN returns the combo of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan as its top team but also adds a new twist with its three-man booth of Chris Berman, Orel Hershiser and Phillips.

What will make these playoffs interesting, Kruk said, is the proliferation of young pitchers who could make the difference for their teams, such as San Diego's Cla Meredith and Detroit's Justin Verlander.

"That's something we haven't seen in baseball in a long time, is a group of young guys coming up," Kruk said. "They know how to pitch, and they're not being babied. ... You talk to people in baseball, and the more you baby them, the more babies they become. ... These guys going into the postseason, this is the best group of young pitchers I've seen in a long, long time in baseball."