An Inside Look at Major League Baseball's High-Tech Replay Center (Photos)
This story first appeared in the July 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Fair or foul? This question has bedeviled umpires and altered baseball history, but a new $30 million high- tech center is offering definitive answers to this and other vexing riddles. Major League Baseball's Replay Operations Center gathers the video feed from all 30 MLB stadiums so umpires inside New York City's Chelsea Market can review disputed calls.
In 2008, baseball became the last of the big four professional sports to adopt replay, 22 years after the NFL led the way. Now the ROC has turned the tables, as both the NBA and NFL are looking to start similar centralized replay rooms, possibly by 2015. (The NHL's Situation Room opened in 2011.)
Here's how it works. When a manager challenges a call, the field umpire talks directly to the ROC and the clock starts ticking. The goal, says Peter Woodfork, the MLB senior vp in charge of umpiring, is to not interrupt the flow of the game. So far, the average review has taken 1 minute, 49 seconds. That might sound fast, but Woodfork says in the ROC, each second feels like an eternity as an umpire studies the call frame-by-frame on HD screens. The old-fashioned eye test left a lot up to individual judgment about when a player had control of the ball, says Woodfork. "We had to come up with a much tighter definition since with replay, you can look so closely."
In the inaugural season of expanded instant replay, managers challenged 678 calls through July 10, with 322 (that's 47.5 percent) being overturned using the league's "clear and convincing" standard. Reversible plays include force outs, fair/foul calls, home runs and fan interference. What's not? Ball/strike calls, balks and foul tips.
Click here for larger image.
"It's overwhelming" are the first words almost every visitor utters when stepping into the 900-square-foot Replay Operations Center, says Woodfork, the baseball official in charge of umpiring. The so-called ROC can handle 15 games at once, though that maximum would happen only in the event of massive East Coast weather delays.
An umpire, rotating in from calling games in person for a weeklong stretch, and a technician are assigned to monitor a pair of games. When a play is challenged, the umpire has access to any of the broadcast camera feeds (networks use four to 12) as well as an MLB-installed "high home plate" camera that shows the whole field.
The ROC is equipped with 36 HDTVs and 15 computer monitors. Six dedicated workstations each feature four 46-inch TVs, which can be subdivided to show 12 images each. Baseball also spent about $10 million connecting all 30 stadiums to the ROC with high-speed direct Fiberlink cable.
Click here for larger image.