Obituary: Frank Pulli / Longtime MLB umpire was first to use video replay

March 22, 1935 - Aug. 28, 2013


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Frank Pulli, who in 1999 became the first major league umpire to use instant replay to verify a call, nearly a decade before the league approved the practice, died Wednesday at his home in Palm Harbor, Fla. He was 78.

The cause was complications of Parkinson's disease, Mike Teevan, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said.

After becoming a National League umpire in 1972, Mr. Pulli spent nearly 30 years in the majors, officiating in 3,774 games, including two All-Star games, six NL Championship Series and four World Series. He was the first-base umpire in Atlanta on April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs (since surpassed by Barry Bonds). In Game 4 of the 1978 World Series, he ruled that Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees did not intentionally interfere with a throw when he was hit on the leg while running the bases, allowing Thurman Munson to score. The Yankees won that game, 4-3, and the Series, 4 games to 2.

Mr. Pulli made baseball history May 31, 1999, after the Florida Marlins outfielder Cliff Floyd, in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, smashed a line drive that struck the top of the left-field scoreboard and bounced back onto the field.

The second-base umpire, Greg Gibson, initially called the play a double, but the crew changed the ruling to a home run after the Marlins argued. The Cardinals then protested, and Mr. Pulli, the crew chief that day, went to their dugout to study a replay on a television camera. The replay showed that the hit was a double. The Cardinals wound up winning the game, 5-2.

Though it did not change Mr. Pulli's call, the National League objected to the use of the camera in making it. "Use of the video replay is not an acceptable practice," the league president, Leonard Coleman, said in a statement. "The integrity of the game requires that judgments be left to on-field personnel."

Major League Baseball began using instant replay for home run calls in 2008 and is considering expanding its use next season.

Frank Victor Pulli was born March 22, 1935, in Easton, Pa., where he umpired as a teenager. He served in the Air Force and went on to umpire in the minor leagues before joining the National League.

In 1989 he was put on probation for two years, along with the Chicago Cubs' manager, Don Zimmer, and the umpire Rich Garcia, for betting on basketball and football games. An investigation found that they had not gambled on baseball.

In 1999 he was one of 22 umpires who resigned in a labor dispute. He went on to work as an umpire supervisor in 2000 and helped introduce the QuesTec Umpire Information System, which records umpires' performance and helps them hone their skills. Though he and most of the 22 umpires were later reinstated, he continued as a supervisor until he retired in 2007.

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