THE REPLAY OFFICIAL: A View from Behind the Mask
I have to admit, that when I was first approached to assist in the development and utilization of replay in Little League Baseball, I immediately had many questions and concerns.
What would go through a volunteer umpire’s mind when he was told that not only is he/she officiating in front of thousands of spectators, when he is accustomed to working in front of a handful of spectators at his local park, and in addition, all his/her calls would be under the scrutiny of the camera’s eye? Would this be too much to handle for the everyday Little League umpire? How much time would this take in the course of the game? Would the continuity of the game be jeopardized? Would overzealous announcers take this as their opportunity to berate officials?
The answers came very soon after the 2010 Little League Baseball World Series began, and were quite surprising to me. First, let us review the replay procedure for those who do not know the particulars. Once per game, a manager may challenge an umpire’s safe/out call, hit batters, fair and foul fly balls over the fence, and missed bases.
If the manager’s challenge is upheld, there is no loss of challenge. If, however, the challenge is denied, the manager is not allowed any further challenges in that game. This, in itself, presents a concern for the manager. When do I challenge? Should I use my challenge now? Is this play a “game-changer” or that important at this time to jeopardize any further challenges? I must say, the 2010 World Series managers were very prudent with their challenges and had situations well thought out before issuing the challenge.
The technology was superb, and under the guidance of Little League Officials, who were well-versed in the system, the program ran without any hitches. Multiple camera angles and stop-action left very little doubt. The replays were presented to us quickly and at times, before a challenge was even issued. We got to the point where anticipation of a possible challenge brought on a replay view and made us ready for what may transpire.
The average time for all determinations of challenges was around 40 seconds. It never interfered with the flow of the game, as I had worried previously.
Getting back to the actual challenges, there were a total of 16 challenges in the entire 2010 World Series. Eight were overturned, and eight were upheld. Great job umps! And, in actuality, some of the calls that were overturned were on situations that no umpire, regardless of experience, could have made with total certainty.
One review in particular was on a safe call at third base. The manager issued the challenge, and stated later, that he only did it because it was late in the game and wanted to try out the system. I, myself, was wondering why a challenge was forthcoming on such an obvious safe call. Upon review, the runner’s foot hit into the ground before the base, propelled up slightly over the base and then came down on the base, but after he was tagged by the fielder. Without replay this call could not have been seen as it actually occurred. So much for me second guessing the situation.
As I stated previously, the technology was superb and the announcers were very good in their analysis, allowing the process to proceed before issuing comment.
One other incident that deserves a mention occurred early on in the tournament.
A call was made at first base. The manager requested the umpires to conference on the call. The umpires did so and told the manager that the call would stand as made. The manager then issued a challenge.
Upon review, the call was reversed in the manager’s favor. In a split second of excitement, the manager made an excited gesture of approval. Upon reaching his dugout, he immediately asked for time out and proceeded to the first-base umpire and apologized for apparently showing up the umpire.
Since both parties were wearing microphones, the conversation is now part of history.
The manager apologized and the umpire immediately thanked him and stated that that was perfectly all right and he was happy that the call was made correct. What a boost for sportsmanship and fair play, and, what an example for our youth to see such concern for others feelings.
Later on in the same game, another call was challenged at first base, this time by the opposing manager. Now, my greatest fear was realized. What would this do to the moral of the first-base umpire? This time the call was upheld. The umpire, after the game, admitted that he was a little concerned, but the fact that the call was correct in this instance, gave him confidence in his ability and judgment.
As the tournament continued, the umpires actually came to us after the games to ask about particular plays. What did we see? Were they correct? They settled in with the system and did a great job of officiating.
In a conference call between all umpires and replay officials at a later date, the system met with general approval and acceptance. There are areas that need further work, however. In the system, it is possible for the umpires, after being questioned by the manager, and meeting, to come to the replay officials on their own for determination, thus not necessitating a manager challenge. That did not occur in this Series, but you can look forward to this scenario being evident in the future.
Little League International has stepped up to the plate and hit a home run for quality officiating. Replay officiating does not take the game away from the umpire, but works hand-in-hand to ensure that when all is said and done, the game was determined by hits, runs, errors, great plays, managerial decisions, tactical errors of omission, and not by a bad call. Maybe, someday, we will never have to hear that the umpire cost us the game.
Mike 'Doc' Lantiere
East Region Assistant UIC