Frank Pulli, a longtime National League umpire who will be most remembered for being the first umpire to use instant replay during a Major League Baseball game, died on Wednesday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 78.
Pulli spent 27 seasons umpiring at the big league level beginning in 1972 and officiated 3,774 games according to the New York Times. He also called two All-Star Games, six National League Championship Series and four World Series in his respected career, and was a part of history as the first base umpire when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record on April 8, 1974 in Atlanta.
It's an impressive resume, but the Frank Pulli moment that will always stand out actually happened as his career was winding down in 1999. During a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Florida (now Miami) Marlins, Pulli became the first umpire to utilize instant replay during a game to review and ultimately overturn a call, turning Cliff Floyd's home run into a double.
Naturally, the Marlins, with whom Floyd played at the time, would protest the call since instant replay in any form was not an approved method in those days. That forced a response from then National League president Leonard Coleman, who in a statement said that he could not overturn a judgment call despite not approving of Pulli's use of replay.
Big League Stew's David Brown took a look back at Pulli's decision to use replay back in 2011. The piece includes comments from the camaraman who assisted Pulli in making the reversal.
Pulli also made news later in 1999 when he was one of 22 umpires who resigned during a labor dispute. He returned to work in 2000 as an umpire supervisor and was part of the team involved in constructing the QuesTec Umpire Information System, which is used to monitor and enhance umpire performance. He would continue in that role until his retirement in 2007.
They say the less you hear and know about an umpire, the better they are at their job. That may be true in most cases, but Pulli was obviously very good at his job despite the waves he made in 1999. He realized the importance of getting the call correct, and in many ways is a pioneer for the replay system that we saw instituted on home runs calls in 2008 and will soon see expanded.
Frank Pulli was simply a man ahead of his time, and we owe him a thank you for his contributions to the game and his passion and commitment to making it the best it can be.