1,276 calls reviewed and 668 reversed

Perfect Game

X

Military-grade planning, precision, and know-how guided MLB’s successful launch of Extended Replay, the game’s biggest rule change in 40 years.

  • The 30 MLB clubs unanimously approved the expansion of instant replay in January 2014, which left little time to complete the Replay Operations Center.

  • The replay official has three possible calls: confirmed (the umpires were correct); stands (too close to tell); overturned (a mistake was made).

  • Clubs can now show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed.

  • During its inaugural season in 2014, the Replay Operations Center looked at 1,276 calls and overturned 668 of them.

It’s June 2, 2010, and Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga has a date with baseball history. One more out, and he’s the first Tiger to pitch a perfect game. And because his gem would complete the first trio of perfect games ever pitched in a single Major League Baseball (MLB) season, he’d likely find a place in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

But in an instant, everything changes. An umpire’s admitted missed call at first base dashes the chance at history making and earns the umpire boos from the crowd of 17,738. Outraged fans set social media ablaze. And the steady drumbeat gets louder, calling for MLB owners to expand instant replay.

Controversy rears its head three years later, this time on baseball’s biggest stage. A ninth inning obstruction call at third base gives the St. Louis Cardinals a critical World Series Game 3 victory over the Boston Red Sox. Because the play involves neither a home run nor fan interference, umpires can’t check the camera angles. Umpires award the Cardinals the winning run on a judgment call.

Further MLB review found the World Series call to be correct, but the time had come. Team owners convened and after months of wrangling, in November 2013, Expanded Replay was born, ushering in the game’s biggest rule change in more than 40 years.

Owners knew that Expanded Replay would be controversial, with the game’s reputation at stake. The new system’s success would rest on a world-class control room that worked flawlessly. So the MLB turned to an unlikely source.

Over the years, Booz Allen Hamilton had designed many such facilities for Department of Defense, intelligence, and homeland security clients. MLB wanted the same caliber of military-grade, “no-fail” command-and-control operation used to track our country’s most dangerous adversaries. And Booz Allen’s military discipline and attention to detail would provide the ideal approach for this high-profile project.

Games a Year: 2,400 monitored. Game Time: 73,920 hours watched.

Creating a blueprint for success

A High-Stakes Game

Justin Klemm is the former MLB umpire who directs MLB’s new Replay Operations Center. On his busiest days, he oversees 24 replay technicians and up to eight umpires serving as replay officials. His team monitors as many as 15 games a day, and more than 2,400 games a year. Each time a replay call enters the center, Klemm makes sure people, technology, and business processes come together to render the best decision possible and avoiding botched calls like the one in 2010 Tigers game.

“With this much activity, we need a room that’s carefully designed to support a well-structured business process. Configuration is vitally important, because our teams of technicians and umpires need room to operate, and also the ability to collaborate. But equally important, information needs to flow seamlessly and reliably from one station to the next, and from the center to the field.”

Klemm was equally focused on the project’s no-miss deadline. Spring training for the 2014 season would start in 75 days. That meant every aspect of the Replay Center had to be ready to go—and perfect—in a little over two months. This didn’t leave much time for building the control room, devising the optimal workflow for center operations, staffing the center, and installing and testing new equipment in all 30 major league ballparks.

As umpires, it’s our job to get it right. Replay serves as an extension of the crew to help get those calls correct. And it becomes a matter of both professionalism and pride. No umpire wants his name associated with a missed call in a pivotal moment. It’s hard to live something like that down.

Justin Klemm

Former MLB umpire

An early test

Safe at Home

On May 6, 2014, the fully staffed Replay Operations Center in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood is getting down to business as the day’s first games begin. Replay operations are off to a smooth start, but the season is just five weeks old. MLB umpire crews are still learning the ropes as they rotate from the playing field to the center.

One replay tandem is glued to the Giants–Pirates game in Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a 2-2 game. Giants relief pitcher Tim Hudson delivers the pitch, and Pirates left fielder Starling Marte hits a triple over the head of Giants right fielder Hunter Pence. Second baseman Ehire Adrianza receives the relay and throws wildly to third. Marte jumps to his feet and digs for home plate. The ball arrives 10 feet before he does. Giants catcher Buster Posey applies the tag, and the umpire calls the runner out. But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has a different angle from the dugout, and he calls for a replay.

Instantly, Klemm springs into action. Working with a MLB replay technician, they quickly gather the available camera angles and send the best ones to the large replay monitor where the assigned umpire waits. Klemm calls for “visit angle one,” then “home angle two.” Other umpires gather around, and after 90 seconds Klemm asks the umpire where he stands with the call. It’s close, and he wants to look at the mid-first angle one more time. It shows that Marte pulls up his chest just as he crosses home plate and avoids the tag. The call is overturned, and the Pirates win the game.

“The adrenaline was flowing for everyone in the room,” Klemm recalls. “And at that moment we all knew how much impact Extended Replay would have. Looking back now, we didn’t know just how right we were. That one Pirate victory was significant to hosting the post-season Wild Card game and helped propel Pittsburgh into the play-offs.”

From blueprint to live action

Form and Function

Behind the scenes, MLB’s Baseball Operations team needed a fast start. With no margin for error, executives were determined to focus on the right details at the right time. Booz Allen’s high-level analysis helped identify those critical success factors.

“We started off doing a lot of listening,” recalls Booz Allen’s Jon Allen. “We needed to really understand the commissioner’s vision and then design the room around it. The MLB has lots of hard-earned technology prowess, and that drove the project’s success. We brought best practices in the control room design and function that were important to consider. Our work on the front end helped the MLB hit the ground running.”

Booz Allen drew on a proven blueprint technique to help the MLB define the core business process involved in challenging umpire rulings. The team also modelled a two monitor/split screen approach, showing what the center official and center analyst would see at their respective workstations at each step of the process. This blueprint technique helped the MLB think through the framework they would eventually adopt.

With these parameters in place, Booz Allen focused on the space configuration, furniture design, and monitor placement that would support this workflow. Military technicians operating in stressful conditions need to remain alert, engaged, and physically comfortable. Allen’s team recommended a furniture manufacturer that specialized in military control rooms. Within weeks, it had built and delivered the custom consoles that became the center’s foundation.

During live action, success depends on well-functioning monitors and a reliable communications system. Booz Allen recommended 46-inch monitors that assured a comfortable viewing angle and met OSHA regulations. The team also suggested a voice communication bridge that could support up to 15 simultaneous three-way conferences between replay officials, technicians, and field umpires. The MLB also established a separate voice channel to isolate center discussions and consultations from the umpire in the field.

Thinking through the intangibles

Building Trust

Booz Allen also considered a less tangible dimension—baseball’s storied traditions. The MLB was about to combine technology with human judgment. For the program to work, umpires had to trust the system. And if they trusted it, others would buy in as well.

The MLB first considered designating two additional umpire crews as dedicated replay umpires. Instead, its staffing model added two new crews to its regular rotation. That made the Replay Operations Center just another scheduled stop along the way. That way, every crew would gain first-hand experience with the center and see how reliably the system worked. The MLB also paired each umpire with a designated replay technician and made technicians solely responsible for operating the technology. That freed umpires to focus exclusively on making the right call. To build rapport, the MLB also encouraged replay umpires to collaborate on calls, something rarely done on the field.

  • A look inside the Replay Operations Center.

    © 2014 Frank Oudeman

  • Major League Baseball’s Replay Operations Center was introduced in 2014 to review disputed calls as part of Extended Replay rules.

    © 2014 Frank Oudeman

  • Every play of every game that is subject to review is analyzed in Replay Operations Center by at least one umpire and one trained technician.

    © 2014 Frank Oudeman

  • The 900-square-foot, state-of-the-art center was designed based on best practices in standing up military command centers.

    © 2014 Frank Oudeman

  • All 30 ballparks were equipped with cameras and cables to quickly transmit images to the Replay Operations Center.

    © 2014 Frank Oudeman

A positive impact

The Right Call

During its inaugural season in 2014, the Replay Operations Center looked at 1,276 calls and overturned 668 of them. These reviews included one play in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, when an overturned call at a critical juncture avoided controversy. All these calls happened without a single disagreement between on-field and replay center umpires.

But baseball is about the fans, and most fans considered Extended Replay a welcome change. Clubs can now show all replays on the ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed. That means fans in the stands get the same views as fans at home on the couch.

“We’re very pleased with the rollout of the replay system,” Klemm says. “Lots could have gone wrong, given all the changes to personnel, the new infrastructure, all the video and audio lines, and our partnerships with third parties. But we ran replays on all 2,400 games. And the new system clearly showed its impact, especially with two plays in the World Series.”

Former commissioner Bud Selig, who initiated the program, gets the final word. “We had no right to expect it would be this good this fast. It could use some tweaking, but I couldn’t be happier.”