Enjoy those close-call replays while you can

Christian Petersen

It's essentially a codicil in Major League Baseball's massive expansion of video review ...

Clubs will now have the right to show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed.

It's about time, right? Because let's be honest ... Those incredible video screens in most of the ballparks have largely been wasted on stupid little games and annoying advertisements, with the occasional interesting highlight mixed in. But what we've really wanted to see -- the close plays that brought the manager out of the dugout to kick and scream for a while -- have been completely absent, unseen by the paying customers who happen to have been in their seats.

But that's going to change, and we're all thrilled.

You ever wonder how the no-close-plays policy began, though? According to MASN's Pete Kerzel, it all started way back in 1976 in a game at Yankee Stadium, with the Orioles in town. Yankees pinch-hitter Gene Locklear hit a grounder to third baseman Doug DeCinces, who threw out Locklear at first base. But Billy Martin thought O's first baseman Tony Muser had juggled the ball and pulled his foot off the base ...

An on-the-field argument ensued, and it became clear that Kunkel had no interest in reversing his call despite Martin's protestations. But while this transpired, the Yankees repeatedly broadcast the TV feed of the call in question on their giant video board (ahead of their technological time, those New Yorkers). Each time they did, and each time it appeared as if Muser didn't have control or might have missed the bag, the crowd became more and more agitated. It was baseball's version of lather, rinse and repeat - minus, of course, the rinse.

As if that weren't enough, the Yankees decided it would be a good idea to later post the names of the umpires on the video board. Suffice it to say and already angry crowd just became more incensed. I distinctly remember Chuck Thompson, on the O's TV broadcast, pointing out how the pinstriped faithful pretty much booed from the time of Kunkle's controversial call until the umpires left the field after pinch-hitter Otto Velez grounded to short to end the game.

Remember (or let me tell you, since I was around way back then), there weren't any JumboTrons in 1976. As I recall, a "video board" was essentially a scoreboard with a bunch of light bulbs that could be programmed to show video, but it was very difficult to actually see anything. I'm actually sort of amazed that anyone at Yankee Stadium could see enough to boo the umpires; granted, it probably wouldn't have taken much to whip a 1976 Yankee Stadium crowd into a frenzy.

A lot has changed since then. The video's a lot better, but the crowds a lot more well-behaved. Also, they don't let you have glass bottles and the like. Kerzel says the ban on in-stadium replays "makes little sense," and maybe he's right. But I suspect that for many years it made a great deal of sense. For many years in some ballparks, an obviously blown call might have resulted in a torrent of bottles and batteries and anything else at hand. So I think the policy was reasonable, and if George Steinbrenner hadn't inspired it, someone else (Ted Turner?) would have.

In fact, I'm not sure that policy has outlived its usefulness. The current thinking, I suppose, is that showing close plays is harmless because the umpires will eventually get them right. But we know some calls will still be missed, especially when the manager has exhausted his appeals. What will the fans do, when presented with the smoking gun on humankind's largest high-definition video screens?

So here's a little guessing game we can all play together ... Which happens first? A return to the old policy, prohibiting the display of close plays? Or a revision of the video-review system, with manager challenges eliminated? Because I don't believe these two things can exist together for long.

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