Longtime MLB umpire Frank Pulli dies at 78
The Associated Press | August 31,2013
AP File Photo
In this May 31, 1999, file photo, third base umpire Frank Pulli, right, looks at an instant replay on an ESPN camera during a game. Pulli used the replay to retract a home run call, turning it into a double.
PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Longtime major league umpire Frank Pulli, who used instant replay to make a call nearly a decade before video reviews were allowed, has died. He was 78.
“He was ahead of his time,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, involved in the replay episode, said Thursday night.
Major League Baseball said Pulli died Wednesday in Palm Harbor, Fla., from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Pulli umpired in the National League from 1972-99 and worked four World Series, six NL championship series and two All-Star games.
In the 1978 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers, Pulli was involved in a call on the bases involving Reggie Jackson that was hotly disputed by Los Angeles manager Tom Lasorda.
Pulli was among the 22 umpires who lost their jobs in a failed mass resignation. He was an MLB umpire supervisor from 2000-07 and charted pitches, helping umps improve their ball-strike calls.
Many young umpires looked at Pulli as a mentor. He also was a pioneer — not that he intended to be one.
Early in the 1999 season, Cliff Floyd of the Marlins hit a drive against St. Louis that was originally ruled a double. Gonzalez was the Marlins’ interim manager and argued. Pulli, the crew chief, changed it to a home run.
That drew a beef from the Cardinals, so Pulli decided to check replays on a TV camera near the Marlins’ dugout. The game in Miami was delayed for more than five minutes before Pulli overturned his own call and put Floyd back at second base.
“He called a home run and Tony La Russa came out and said it wasn’t a homer,” Gonzalez recalled after the Braves’ 3-1 win ove Cleveland on Thursday. “So he goes and looks at the monitor in the dugout. The main thing was, he got the play right.”
In 2008, MLB approved the use of replay on potential home runs.
The Marlins weren’t so satisfied at the time. They filed a protest that was denied by NL president Len Coleman. But Coleman also said Pulli was incorrect to use replay.
Gonzalez, then a coach who was filling in as the Marlins’ manager while John Boles had neck problems, praised Pulli for his handling of the situation.
“What I remember most about that whole thing was he was a total gentleman,” Gonzalez recalled. “Here I was, this guy who wasn’t even supposed to be managing, and he treated me with respect.”
Even when Gonzalez announced he planned to protest the game because Pulli relied on a replay.
“I wanted to protest the game,” Gonzalez said. “He said, ‘Are you sure you want to do that, kid?’ So I asked him, ‘Can I protest?’ And he said, `Yeah.’”
After the game, Pulli said it was the first time he had used a TV replay to make a call.
“I sure don’t want to make a habit of it,” he said then. “But at that moment, I thought it was the proper thing to do.”
“A lot of things went through my mind,” he said. “I hope I don’t have to go to the replay again. I don’t want it to become like football.”
Pulli was part of another noted play during Game 4 of the 1978 World Series. The Dodgers tried to turn an inning-ending double play in the sixth, but a relay throw by second baseman Davey Lopes glanced off Jackson’s leg.
A run scored and Lasorda argued that Jackson should’ve been out for interference. Pulli was at first base and allowed the play to stand. The Yankees won in 10 innings, and wrapped up the title in six games.
Pulli also was the first base umpire when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and broke Babe Ruth’s record. For all his games, though, Pulli never worked behind the plate for a no-hitter in the majors.