The Day Instant Replay Made its Way into Baseball's National Consciousness

On this day in 1999, umpire Frank Pulli took it upon himself to check video playback to determine if the Marlins' Cliff Floyd had homered. The replay showed he didn't and the call was reduced to a double. Pulli was roundly criticized around baseball, but a decade later, replay became integrated into the fabric of the game.
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Most rule changes in baseball in the last decade or so have had to do with trying to speed up the game.

The breaks between half innings have been shortened. The number of visits to the mound has been reduced to five. This season, assuming there will be a this season, will see the advent of the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers.

Today is the anniversary of one of the changes that went the other way, stretching games out in sometimes unexpected ways. In a May 31, 1999 game between the Cardinals and the Marlins, home plate ump Frank Pulli did the previously unthinkable, utilizing a camera’s video replay to determine if the Marlins’ Cliff Floyd had homered.

Originally called a double by second-base ump Greg Gibson, the ruling was changed to a home run after the entire umpiring crew got together following a Marlins’ protest. Then St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was up in arms. Crew chief Pulli, the third-base ump that day, flexed his muscle, went into the Marlins’ dugout and watched the video. The call was changed back to a double in a game the Cardinals went on to win, 5-2.

Behind acting manager Fredi Gonzalez, the Marlins protested the game, won by the Cardinals, 5-2, pointing in particular to Pulli’s use of the video playback. The National League let the call and the outcome stand, but castigated Pulli for having gone above his pay grade.

“Use of the video replace is not an acceptable practice,” NL president Leonard Coleman said in handing down the ruling. “The integrity of the game requires that judgments be left to on-field personnel. Part of the beauty of baseball is that it is imperfect. ... Traditionally, baseball has relied on the eyes of the umpires as opposed to any artificial devices for its judgments. I fully support this policy. Occasionally, however, the umpires too will make mistakes; that is also part of the game."

Curiously, Pulli was on Coleman’s side.

“I sure don’t want to make a habit of it,” Pulli said that day 21 years ago in Florida. “But at that moment, I thought it was the proper thing to do. I hope I don’t have to go to the replay again. I don’t want it to become like football.”

Well, it did. Coleman’s “integrity of the game” lasted for about a decade. MLB began using video replay to judge home run calls in 2008 and went to an expanded replay system in 2014, ironically just after Pulli had passed away. In so doing, baseball was the last of the major U.S. sports to the replay party. The NFL had adopted replay into the rules in 1986, the NHL in 1991 and the NBA in 2001.

Since the adoption of replay – which has been expanded to include team challenges to umpires’ calls – there has been an ongoing debate about it. Most everyone seems to see the replay as here to stay, and the debate is over the kinds of calls that are subject to review.

Most significantly, ball/strike calls can’t be reviewed. In addition, check swings, applications of the infield-fly rule, trap plays in the infield, foul tips and, perhaps a bit oddly, mound visit counts aren’t video reviewable.

Not every game has a challenge or review, but some will have multiple instances of the practices. And that’s an issue for the time-of-game fretters. MLB would like to have replays limited to two minutes or less, but the reviews take as long as they take.

Just like Frank Pulli drew it up 21 years ago.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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