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Umpire Pulli's use of replay sparks controversy in baseball circles

Clearly, Frank Pulli's heart was in the right place.

The 28-year veteran umpire and crew chief wanted to get it right, and when none of the four umpires in his crew was quite sure whether a ball hit by Florida's Cliff Floyd had cleared the wall at Pro Player Stadium in Miami on May 31, Pulli did the only thing he could think of.After umpire Greg Gibson ruled Floyd's hit a double, after the Marlins argued vehemently, after Pulli changed the hit to a home run, after the Cardinals argued vehemently, Pulli walked over to a television camera and watched the replay.

And then he changed the call again.

Floyd was stuck with a double, and the Marlins played the game under protest.

And the National League office did not exactly stand up to defend the judgment of its umpire with the second-most seniority.

"Use of the video replay is not an acceptable practice," league president Len Coleman said at the time. "Part of the beauty of baseball is that it is imperfect. Players make errors. Managers are second-guessed. But the game is played and determined by two teams between the white lines."

Modern video technology, in other words, is better left to the NFL. In baseball, after all, questionable and controversial calls by umpires are as much a part of the game's lore as spitting and scratching.

Already owning permanent places in the Hall of Shame: the dubious safe-at-first call by Don Denkinger on Jorge Orta in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series; the strike zone that was as big as double-wide plate umpire Eric Gregg in Game 5 of the 1997 National League Championship Series in Miami; and the double-play relay throw that Reggie Jackson rerouted with his right hip in Game 4 of the 1978 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

All of those instances marked turning points in the respective series in which they occurred, and all three series were won by the team that benefited from the questionable calls.

And all three could have been reversed with the use of replay technology.

While the very thought of such technology being introduced to major league baseball makes purists everywhere shudder, there are those who wouldn't mind it.

"When Pulli did that, I liked it," Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. "Now I don't think it should be used for balls and strikes at all. But for a situation like that, if an umpire needs to determine whether a ball is a home run or not, and he can get a better, more accurate idea of that from checking the replay, I don't see anything wrong with it."

Then, of course, came the qualifier.

"But I can see why a lot of people don't like the idea," Piniella said.

Among them is Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner. As one of the longest-tenured managers currently in the game, having taken his current post before the 1992 season, Garner has taken exception with many an umpire's call during the past eight seasons and is convinced that many of them could have been reversed by replay.

But that would fall into the category of being careful what one wishes for.

"I would just as soon we didn't have it," Garner said. "I argue with umpires. I disagree with them sometimes. But I do think that, on balance, they make good calls. I think at times they do make mistakes, but it's not as often as people think. I look at replays, and sometimes they're inconclusive anyway, and sometimes they prove the call in question was right or wrong. But I think we're better off letting it go rather than messing up the flow of the game.

"And of course, the other question is, 'When would you use it? Do you use it for balls and strikes, or just calls on the bases?"'

There are other factors at work, as well. Factors like the Major League Baseball Umpires Association, a union whose relationship with baseball has been rocky at times.

"I personally like (instant replay)," Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris said. "But it's a league issue with the umpires. Out of respect to them, we haven't gone to that. . . . Overall, I think the umpires we have here in the National League do a really good job."

Their confrontational reputations aside, there is an obvious desire on the part of the men in blue exemplified by Pulli's well-intentioned foible of last month to get it right.

"I applaud what (they) did," Garner said. "They wanted to get it right, and that part, I think, is good."