Baseball’s replay central resembles NASA
By RONALD BLUM, AP Baseball Writer 1 hour, 56 minutes ago
NEW YORK (AP)—Baseball’s replay central is an 18-by-24 foot room on the fifth floor of a former baking factory in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District that’s crammed with so many computers and television screens that it looks like NASA’s Mission Control.
Five monitors stretch across the top of the wall, and beneath are eight, 46-inch screens split into two rows. Each television can show one picture, or be split into nine, 16, 25 or 100 angles at once.
In the third row are two white Macintosh computers with 19-inch screens, each adjacent to a 26-inch TV. And, finally, below that are dozens of buttons on a router panel. Some are blue, some green, some red, some yellow. This is where the technicians and supervisors will sit.
The room is called the NOC—the Network Operations Center for MLB.com. It’s where video from the 30 major league ballparks is already being collected, and will be made available to umpires starting Thursday to help them with home-run calls. Technicians can zoom in on replays, run them at any speed.
“Pretty soon, we’ll wonder how we got along without it, and it won’t even be noticed,” Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner’s office, said as reporters got a tour Wednesday.
Baseball spent $2.5 million and two months installing fiberlink lines, monitors and dedicated telephones to link every ballpark with the NOC. Major League Baseball Advanced Media will now collect both teams’ video feeds from each game and send them here.
For the 20 to 30 games each year with no telecast, MLBAM already is sending its own production truck, with six-to-eight cameras. And just in case there’s a power failure at the NOC, the control room has emergency battery power just behind the wall and a generator on the roof with at least 12 hours of fuel.
The transformation is dramatic for a site where Oreos, Mallomars and Animal Crackers used to be cooked up—and the change is about as radical for MLB.
Baseball was the last replay holdout among the major U.S. professional leagues, one so conservative that National League president Len Coleman chastised umpire Frank Pulli for consulting a monitor in May 1999 before awarding Florida’s Cliff Floyd a double rather than a home run in a game against St. Louis.
“You can slow a picture down so much that you can see the grains of sand and the clay around the bag. You can see whether or not a person has shaved that day,” Solomon said. “The commissioner has come around and he’s embraced it, because the technology is undeniable. I’m sure there was a time when all of us watched baseball on black and white TVs. Now I bet you everybody in the room has a high-def TV.”
For now, umps can use replays to aid decisions only on whether potential home runs cleared fences, were fair balls or were interfered with by fans. MLB estimates it will take 2 minutes, 30 seconds for replays to be reviewed, and that so far this year about 18 calls would have sparked video checks.
Solomon said MLB will never expand the types of decisions replays can be used for. But what happens if there’s a blown call on the bases in the postseason, such as when Don Denkinger called Kansas City’s Jorge Orta safe in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series? It gave the Royals a leadoff runner, and they overcame a one-run deficit to win the game, then went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7.
If a similar botch were made today, there would be an outcry for commissioner Bud Selig to expand the use of replay.
“The commissioner has been very clear. We’re not going any farther than we’ve gone,” Solomon said.
Umpires will have access to all video collected by networks and by teams’ broadcast partners. Is it possible a broadcaster would withhold a video that’s unfavorable to its club?
“Of course you cannot tell them what to do,” Solomon said. “But we don’t expect anybody is going to impact the game in that fashion. If it were true, that something like that did happen, we’d impact them very quickly from the commissioner’s office, without a doubt. But we don’t have that fear, not at all. Everybody’s going to want to show the play.”