PHOENIX — The Arizona Fall League has excelled as a proving ground for those on the way up. Mike Piazza homered here in the first championship series. Tommy Hanson and Nolan Arenado have been MVPs. Carlos Lee holds the season record for doubles. Dusty Baker, Don Mattingly and Matt Williams managed here.
The league was at the forefront again last week, when instant replay was tested in five Fall League games using video technology that could make its way to the major leagues as early as next season.
Fifteen umpires’ calls were challenged and three were reversed, and the general consensus among the managers involved was that the system worked. There were no long delays.
“I went into it with not the most open mind, but they put a lot of thought into the process, and they made it quick,” said Mesa Solar Sox manager Bill Richardson, a manager in the Los Angeles Angels’ minor league system.
Richardson was the first to ask for a review, after Mesa batter Chris Cron grounded to second base and was called out on a bang-bang play at first in the second inning of Salt River’s 8-0 victory Tuesday.
That review took 41 seconds.
A second one that night took 44 seconds. The third, a little more than a minute.
The results seemed encouraging, so much so that reports from the owners’ and general managers’ meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week indicated that the teams are expected to vote to approve funding for instant replay, with an eye toward possible implementation in the 2014 season.
Joe Torre, major league baseball’s director of baseball operations, attended the first two Fall League games in which replay was tested, including a Wednesday’s game between Scottsdale and Salt River that involved six challenges. Two calls in the first inning were reversed.
One play Wednesday challenged twice, first on whether Salt River runner Luke Maile was safe at third base after advancing from first on a single by Jake Lamb. Scottsdale then challenged that Maile missed second base on his way. In both instances, the original call stood and after that, managers were told they could appeal the entirety of the play at one time.
“It looked like it went off smoothly. The commissioner (Bud Selig) has wanted this for a couple of years, but we certainly didn’t want to go knee-jerk on it,” Torre told reporters. “We wanted to make sure to do something that wasn’t going to affect the rhythm of the game.”
In Arizona, calls were reviewed in a video production truck stationed at the ball park. If the system is adopted by major league baseball, all reviews are expected to be handled by a staff of umpires from baseball’s New York offices.
Atlanta president John Schuerholz and special assistant to the commissioner Tony La Russa also are on the committee designed to study and make recommendations on instant replay.
“It was interesting,” said Richardson, a veteran who spent the previous six seasons in the Texas system.
“It was a lot of fun. I really get the feeling the right baseball minds are in there, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. They’ve got more baseball than I will know. It’s in good hands. Now what they do with it, we’ll see. I know they will think things out.”
It is possible the owners could vote to approve instant replay in Orlando by the end of the meetings Thursday, although a new system could not be adopted until the January owners’ meetings because any changes must be approved by the Major League Baseball Players Association and the World Umpires Union.
Under the replay plan being considered, ball/strike calls, checked swings and balks could not be reviewed. In its current form, only home runs can be reviewed.
“There’s still a lot of housekeeping we’ve got to do. Hopefully, in the next month or so, we’ll have it all,” Torre said.