Sunday, December 21, 2014

Baseball set for age of instant replay

NEW YORK—After deciding close calls on the field since 1876, baseball opens a high-tech control room this weekend where the fates of batters, pitchers, runners, and fielders will be decided by umpires up to 2,600 miles away in the building where the Oreo cookie was invented.
Starting with the L.A. Dodgers’ game at the San Diego Padres on Sunday night, the U.S. opener of the 2014 season, players, managers, and fans will turn their attention to the ROC—the Replay Operations Center.

In a dimly-lit room of just under 1,000 square feet in the Chelsea Market in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, umpires and technicians will make the decisions that could decide games and championships.
More than $10 million has been spent wiring the 30 big-league ballparks with Fiberlink cable that will transmit the images from at least 12 cameras at every site, and Major League Baseball said it will take just 400 milliseconds for each image to arrive at the command centre.
All in an effort to prevent the type of botched calls that cost Detroit’s Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010.
“I’m happy for the managers,” said Joe Torre, an MLB executive vice-president overseeing the new system.
“Maybe it will keep them from having one or two more sleepless nights if they are able to grab one and overturn it.”
Inside the sliding glass doors at the offices of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the room has its own power supply in case of a blackout—with batteries as a second auxiliary.
It also features a stand-alone heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system that keeps the temperature at 72 degrees.
There are dozens of televisions—more than enough to make it resemble NASA’s Mission Control.
Outside the room, next to a modernist black sofa, is a 55-inch NEC screen, with another just inside the entrance.
Walk in, and there’s 65-inch Pentus TV to your left.
On each side are three stations—each to be staffed with a technician on the left and a major-league umpire on the right.
Three more “floater” stations stretch across the back well.
Every station has four 46-inch screens—three Planars for each pod, with a higher-quality Sony directly in front of each umpire’s seat.
The umps will wear headsets and can push a button to speak with their colleagues at any stadium.
Fifteen Asus computer monitors are scattered about—four on a wavy table in the centre where supervisors will monitor the review umpires and up to 15 simultaneous games.
The nine circular overhead lights are kept low, the walls are grey, and the carpeting is dark—all so that the televised images will stand out more for the umpires.
“I’ll see more games than the Fan Cave,” quipped Justin Klemm, a former minor-league umpire and big-league fill-in who was hired last month as MLB’s director of instant replay.
Baseball ignored replay even as it was first used by the NFL in 1986, the NHL in 1991, the NBA in 2002, and the Little League World Series in 2008.
MLB took a tentative step toward replay in August, 2008, when it first used video to decide boundary calls such as home runs at the top of fences or near foul poles.
Torre long opposed video review but changed his mind in October, 2012 when umpire Jeff Nelson missed a call on Robinson Cano’s two-out tag of Omar Infante at second base in the AL championship series, calling the runner safe.
Detroit went on to win Game 2 and sweep the N.Y. Yankees.
“That’s when I realized that we certainly can’t ignore the technology and the fact that this seemed to be what the people want or think they want,” Torre said.
Eight umpires will be assigned to the replay room each week, with generally six on duty for a full schedule and each monitoring two games at a time.
When an umpire has a decision to make, screens for their other game will go dark.
If an ump has simultaneous challenges in both games, one will “cascade” to the next pod over.

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