By Greg Gulas
Over the course of a stellar, four-decade professional umpiring career, Poland’s John Hirschbeck has either seen or been a part of just about everything that can happen at the Major League Baseball level.
That is, until tonight.
Idle on the field since his son Michael’s passing on April 8, Hirschbeck then found himself rehabbing a broken knee cap and severed quadriceps tendons, suffered when he tripped after missing a step outside his home the day before Mother’s Day.
“It’s been a long, hard process because I really messed up the knee pretty good. My orthopedic surgeon, Dr. J.J. Stefancin, did an absolutely remarkable job of fixing me up and after nearly three months of rehab, he’s now given me the thumbs up to gradually increase activity,” Hirschbeck said. “I’m really looking forward to the challenge of my new role as a replay official.”
During the past four months, the 32-year MLB veteran was never too far from the game as he kept in constant contact with his supervisors and MLB officials.
“I’ve been in touch with the league office throughout my injury and time away so with the brace finally off and now being permitted to once again drive, I’m ready to head to New York and work with my fellow replay officials.”
Hirschbeck, who has worked three All-Star games, nine Division Series, four American League Championship Series and four World Series, said that his goal remains the same and that is to return to the field before the end of the regular season.
“I want to get back to the game and this is an excellent opportunity right now for me to do so. While I am looking forward the challenge, I also know that Michael wants me to do this as well and that is what provides me with plenty of daily motivation,” he added.
Replay for all MLB games is housed in Chelsea Market; an office building and television production facility located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City.
Depending on the league’s daily schedule, crews are staffed in shifts to accommodate afternoon, evening and also West Coast contests.
“We’re in a giant studio room that houses all Major League Baseball productions. The room is complete with high-tech televisions, recording equipment and monitors with each umpire having two screens directly in front of them,” Hirschbeck stated. “A replay official never oversees more than two games a shift and there are 12 smaller screens in between as well.”
The two replay crews on duty consist of eight umpires, each of whom works with a computer technician.
Justin Klem, MLB supervisor, is in charge of the overall operation.
“Umpires are scheduled for a week at a time and while some draw day games, others draw night games. On Friday, the place should be packed because there are four late games on the schedule,” Hirschbeck stated.
As of July, two plays have accounted for more than 75 percent of replay challenges with the force play and tag play accounting for 76.2 percent of the challenges.