#Hot Corner

The beginnings of instant replay


Instant replay in Major League Baseball is about to become a major topic again, with reports saying that the owners are about to submit a replay proposal to the players' and umpires' unions.

With that in mind, let's take a quick look back at how things fared for the NFL after their first season (1986) with instant replay. The article was published by the New York Times on the day of Super Bowl XXI. It's a long article, but here are a few of my favorite parts...

In case you forgot just how far things have come:

WHEN REFEREE Gene Barth came into the league in 1971, he says, "It was very casual. Sometimes we'd have game films, sometimes we wouldn't. It's just not like it used to be."

The length of replays were a problem from the get-go:

To initiate the replay process, the official in the booth uses a paging device attached to both the umpire and field judge. The guidelines spell out a ''reasonable'' period of review as 15 or 20 seconds, but reality has defined things differently. In a recent playoff game between the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams, more than four minutes went by before one call could be upheld.

There were other problems:

The experiment began with umpires communicating with replay officials via walkie-talkie, a plan that was scrapped in October after the mistaken awarding of a touchdown to the Los Angeles Raiders in their victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The umpire had misheard the replay official's decision of "pass incomplete" as "pass is complete."

To be fair, this version of the NFL's instant replay system was removed from the game in 1993 and was not replaced until 1999. Not only has technology changed profoundly over the years, but Major League Baseball can learn from the mistakes of other leagues and use their lessons in any new system.

Still, it's always good to remind ourselves of what's happened when new systems began. They teach us good lessons about unforeseen consequences and show us how quickly (or slowly) things can evolve. Now, though, we wait.

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