Little League to expand instant replay

Upon further review, turns out instant replay in baseball isn’t such a bad idea after all.

And not just for disputed home run calls but for forceouts, tag plays on the basepaths, hit batters, even to determine if a runner missed a base.

Oh, did we mention we’re talking about Little League?

While Commissioner Bud Selig and major league umpires continue to treat the idea of video replay as if it were radioactive, Little League President Stephen Keener is expanding its use at this month’s World Series to include virtually everything except ball and strike calls.

“This is just another tool to help them do their job better,” Keener said of the volunteer umpires who will work the 16-team World Series, which begins Aug. 20. “This retains not only the human element, but the volunteer element.”

A spokesman for Selig declined Monday to comment on Little League’s latest innovation, but expect MLB to be watching. It was Little League that made the use of batting helmets mandatory, 10 years before they were required in the majors. And it was Little League that pioneered the postgame ice cream and pizza parties, though that idea still hasn’t gained much traction in the pros.

“It’s exciting news,” Barry Mano, a former college basketball official and publisher of Referee magazine, said of instant replay. “I would expect that something that happens in Little League baseball, [Selig] would look at it. They will look at any evaluation they can get their hands on.”

The Little League World Series has used instant replay the last two summers, limiting it to plays that should have resulted in a dead ball, such as home runs. During that time four rulings were challenged, with replays showing the umpire’s call was correct each time.

But Little League decided to go ahead and expand the use of instant replay anyway, largely because it can. Each game in the tournament is scheduled to be televised by ESPN, which will use 12 to 14 cameras and up to 16 playback machines. That’s nearly twice as many network cameras as ESPN uses for many regular-season major league telecasts.

“Our whole intention is to get it right. And hopefully make the game better,” said Steve Barr, director of media relations for Little League.

Given the additional cameras and the smaller Little League field, numerous replays from various angles will be available for every play.

“When we do the Little League World Series, we’re fortunate that we’re there for 10 days. So it’s cost-effective to have a lot of equipment there,” said Tom McNeeley, the coordinating producer of ESPN’s Little League World Series coverage. “It’s kind of easy to help out Little League baseball and the umpires.”

Network officials actually discussed expanding the use of replay at a production meeting last summer but tabled the idea until this year.

Under the new plan, umpires can call for a replay, as they have the last two years. And now for the first time, managers also will be allowed to challenge calls as often as they want provided they are correct. Managers will be allowed one unsuccessful challenge during the first six innings and one additional unsuccessful challenge in extra innings.

Barr says the system worked well during the last two World Series.

“I don’t remember people saying, ‘Oh, wow. That took way too long. We shouldn’t be doing that,’ ” he said. “We want, whenever possible, to stay away from those big, long delays.”

Even though the challenges were handled seamlessly and showed the umpires were correct each time, not everyone is excited about the expanded use of video replay.

“I think they’re going overboard. Don’t ruin the game like this,” pleaded Dave Samarzich, who has officiated more than 4,400 youth and amateur games in Southern California and is the umpire supervisor for the Upland Foothill Little League. “The guys who are working these games worked their whole life to get to this point. And now you’re taking things out of their hands.

“I don’t like the way they’re taking the human element out of it. These guys treat the game with as much respect as the players do. Even down to the Little League level.”