On the evening of April 15, San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium will officially enter the video age, when the brand new, instant-replay, full-color Diamond Vision scoreboard blazes to life as part of the Padres home opener against the San Francisco Giants.
Owned and operated by the Padres organization, this $6.5 million technological wonder will buzz and blink and flash and light up Mission Valley like an alien spacecraft hovering over the right field bleachers, It reportedly can do everything to entertain and inform the fan but pour Miller Lite. shell peanuts, and spout Colemanisms. In addition to replays of action on the field, the big board will serve up such visual goodies as sports quizzes, baseball bloopers and highlights from around the league, live updates on crucial games in other cities, no-hitters in progress, record-breaking performances, and, unfortunately, the commercials. But the board"s biggest attraction will be the instant replays. Finally the fans in the. stands can double their baseball pleasure by actually being there in the ball yard while not missing out on the exciting replays and revealing closeups we have all grown accustomed to seeing on home TV.
Naturally, you'd expect that fans would be treated to the same cold and critical eye which television has brought to the living room, right? A shot o fthe check swing that, in replay, turns out to be a full swing and a strike; the tag at second that the tape shows was just a tad late. Another look at those tough, bang-bang plays -- the good stuff, right? Wrong. "As far as controversial stuff, we won't even go near it," says Mark Guglielmo, a former Channel 39 sports producer newly hired by the Padres as scoreboard supervisor. It will be Guglielmo's job to decide what appears on the 900-square-foot Diamond Vision board, and he's already been given his orders: no rhubarbs, no close plays, no arguments with the umps, no questionable calls, no "incidents" at all. "Primarily great plays, that's what we'll show," Guglielmo says. From his command post in the control booth near the press box, Guglielmo will scan the the monitors fed from his three video cameras and make what he describes as "judgment calls" about even marginally controversial plays. "Say we're playing the Dodgers, for example, and Steve Sax boots one. I don't think you'd show that. "Especially if he's coming up the next inning. All that does is incite the guy,or embarrass him. Or if somebody on the opposing team hits a home run, I don't think we'll show that." Mike Marshall hammers one into the nose-bleed seats, You call this controversy? And what are the Padres afraid will happen if the fans are shown a replay of a very tight call on a pickoff at first? Riots? Overturned Winnebagos ablaze on Friars Road?
"San Diego fans aren't as avid as some others," Guiglielmo says carefully, "but even so, you can't leave the umpires open to a lot of second guessing, Say there was a close play, and the umpire was wrong. and the opposing manager says, 'Hey, on the scoreboard it "'as clearly proven that he was out, and you called him safe: What do you do there?" Guiglielmo already knows the answer: you don't even touch it. "Besides," he adds, "a lot of camera angles aren't that conclusive. I've seen replays where from ·one camera angle the guy was safe, and you look at it from a different camera angle, he's out."
In defense of what would appear to be censorship, Guglielmo points to a memo on his desk from the National League office, which lists the league's "guidelines" for use of instant replay screens. (With the addition of the Padres, a total of nineteen major league clubs now have such screens.) The memo, signed by league president Charles S. Feeney, reads in part, "The board should not be used to show controversial plays that are the result of an umpire's decision. This could embarrass both the umpire and a manager or player who is arguing a call. Close calls can be interpreted either way by partial fans and such showing could be the cause of disorderly conduct by the fans toward the umpires. Replays showing balls imd strikes shall not be used." Guglielmo says the memo is a statement of National League policy, and that the Padres are bound by it under penalty of fine. However, a spokeswoman at the National League office in New York City hedged when asked to confirm the threat of fines for replay infractions, and said that the league's clubs were "not really', formally bound to follow Feeney's decree. The rules, she said, were "just common sense, really, to protect the umpires.'
John Kibler doesn't sound like a person who needs protecting. Kibler, from Oceanside, is about to start his twenty-first year as a National League umpire. He has a terse, give- 'em-hell style of speaking, and a traditionalist's viewpoint of the game. "All our problems with this replay stuff started in Atlanta four or five years ago," he recalls. "They showed a call up on the screen and the whole crew walked off the field. We finally came ack but we warned 'em that if it happened again, we'd walk off the field again. After this, we spoke to Mr. Feeney about it through our [umpires'] association. He said if it happens, report it directly' to him, and he'd take care of it." Though he declines to specify which clubs, Kibler says that over the years he has reported two" baseball clubs for replay offenses. "One of ' em was showin' balls and strikes!" he says incredulously. "Whether they ever got fined, I don't know."
So no controversial or even mildIy controversial calls will be replayed on the giant screen. Will it at least now and then to whip the the fans into a bit of a frenzy? Could the hometown faithful be pumped up by the great, Orwellian video cheerleader in the sky? "We talked about that," says scoreboard supervisor Guglielmo, "but I don't think we're going to use it to hype the·crowd. I don't know if that even works .... The board is not there to overwhelm the game, just to supplement and add to it." And, a cynic could suggest, to tranquilize it.