The umpiring crew talk before the start of Game One of the MLB World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Expanded instant replay might open more opportunities for women umpires, who've been caught in the traditionalists' world for too long.
Video review will be expanded under baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement. From August 2008 through the end of the 2011 season, umpires were authorized to use instant replay only to resolve home run/no-home run disputes. The new agreement calls for the use of instant replay to resolve fair-or-foul calls, whether a line drive was caught or trapped, and fan-interference calls around the ballpark.
The CBA is an agreement only between the owners and players. The major-league umpires -- as represented by the World Umpires Association -- haven't yet approved the expanded replay. MLB is in discussions with the umpires union to iron out the details: how will umpires decide on the field that instant replay is warranted; will umpires leave the field of play to review the play themselves, as is currently done with home run/no-home run calls; and when will the new rules go into effect, among others.
Other ideas for expanded replay were not adopted in the new CBA, including the use of replay on disputed safe/out calls, giving managers a right to "challenge" a certain number of plays, and employing a fifth "video only" umpire to review all plays (but not balls and strikes). But are these options too far behind?
In August, 2010, the Little League World Series adopted all of these instant-replay rules. As the Amateur Baseball Umpires' Association noted at the time:
Bud Selig and Major League Baseball might want to take note of their kiddie counterparts when it comes to the use of modern technology.
Managers at this month's Little League World Series will be able to challenge certain calls -- including force outs, tags on base paths, missed bases and hit batters -- under a revised instant replay system, according to guidelines announced by the league Monday.
The replay system has been in place the past two seasons but could only be used on plays that should have resulted in a dead ball but were called otherwise by the umpire, such as questionable home runs and other close plays at the outfield fence.
Replay reviews were used only twice each season and none of the disputed calls were reversed.
Managers will be limited to one unsuccessful replay challenge in the first six innings and one unsuccessful challenge in extra innings.
Umpires will still have the option to call for a replay.
An umpire not on the field and a Little League official will make up the replay team, which can review up to 12 camera angles provided by ESPN before deciding whether to reverse the call.
And how did these expanded replay rules work in practice? In the 2010 tournament, for all games but the final one, replay had been used 16 times, with eight calls upheld and eight overturned. The total delay time for all 16 reviewed calls combined? 52 seconds. It takes some managers longer than 52 seconds to go from the dugout to the field to argue one disputed call.
Whether Little League's success with expanded replay -- and its widespread use in other professional sports -- will lead to more replay in Major League Baseball is anyone's guess. Interestingly enough, Joe Torre, who resigned yesterday as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, has been a vocal opponent of expanded replay. And as the person within MLB responsible for overseeing the umpires, his opinion carried great weight. With Torre gone, there may be an opportunity for proponents of expanded replay to make additional progress.
Which leads to an interesting question. Will expanded instant replay make it easier for women to become Major League umpires?
There's never been a female major league umpire, and only six women have umpired in the affiliated minor leagues (meaning those leagues affiliated with Major League Baseball). According to an August story at espnW, the last female umpire in the affiliated minor leagues was Ria Cortesio, and she was fired by the Double-A Southern League in 2007.
Prospective major league umpires begin their journey at one of two accredited umpiring schools, both run by former MLB umpires: the Jim Evans Umpire Academy and the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School. The top 10 to 20 percent of students at these umpiring schools are invited to participate in an evaluation program run by the Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation. Those most highly evaluated by the PBUC then move on to umpiring jobs with rookie or short-season Single-A leagues. The rest have to start over with school (which costs nearly $3,000 a session) or find another line of work.
The lucky ones who make it to the affiliated minor leagues have to work their way up, just like the players do. If minor league umpires don't advance from Single-A to Double-A and from Double-A to Triple-A in a certain number of years, they are let go.
Throughout this process, students and minor-league umpires are evaluated by older, more experienced umpires. And sometimes, whether overtly or otherwise, those older, more experienced umpires make it difficult for women to advance. Here, for example, is an excerpt from an undated Question & Answer post on MLB.com with Major League crew chief Tim McClelland:
I am a female and would like to be a professional umpire. I have a good eye but feel because I am a woman there will be opposition to my entry. What should I do? Has there ever been a female umpire? --Beth
McClelland: . . . . The thing to do is go to umpire school, try your best, finish in the top ten percent and get put in the minor leagues. It's a long road to haul -- I wouldn't wish it on a female because not only do they have the complaints and problems you go through as an umpire, but then they have to deal with working in a male-dominated sport. But it can be done. There's no rule against it.
There's no rule against it.
Indeed, the first woman accepted into umpire school and given a shot in the minor leagues had to sue to gain that right. But getting your foot in the door and succeeding in the "male-dominated sport" are not the same. Some older, more experienced umpires do not think women are capable, despite what the law says. Others hold women candidates to a higher standard. And others are simply resistant to any kind of change.
And therein lies the opportunity. Expanded instant replay has and will continue to change major league umpiring. Traditionalists resist the change, but it's here. And as technology advances in ways that make instant replay more accurate and more efficient, it will be used in more and better ways.
As major league umpiring adapts and changes, so too will the minor leagues and the umpiring schools. They'll need to, in order to prepare young umpires to work in an expanded-instant-replay world. And as with other professions, technological advances will, hopefully, level the playing field for aspiring women umpires by making the profession more about getting the call right than about doing it the way it's always been done.
Which will happen first?
Female umpire in the majors (50 votes)
Pirates win the World Series (79 votes)
129 total votes