Frank Victor Pulli (March 22, 1935 – August 28, 2013) was a baseball umpire, working in the National League from 1972 until 1999. During his career, he officiated in four World Series (1978, 1983, 1990 (crew chief), and 1995), six National League Championship Series (1975, 1979, 1986, 1991, 1993, and 1997), four National League Division Series (1981, 1995, 1996 and 1998), and two All-Star games (1977 and 1988--crew chief). He also officiated in the April 8, 1974 game in which Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record.1
Pulli was involved in a controversial play in Game 4 of the 1978 World Series. In the 6th inning, New York Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella hit a low line drive to shortstop. Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell dropped the ball momentarily (not ruled a catch by second base umpire Joe Brinkman), then flipped it to second baseman Davey Lopes, but Lopes' throw to first caromed off the leg of Reggie Jackson, standing in the baseline between first and second, and went behind first base. Thurman Munson scored (in part due to Steve Garvey stopping to argue before chasing the ball down) to make it a 3-2 game, but Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda immediately argued that Jackson should have been called out for interference. Pulli (umpiring at first base) maintained that Jackson did not "intentionally" interfere with the throw (despite Jackson ever-so-slightly shifting his leg to cause the ball to hit it) and the play stood. The Yankees went on to win Game 4, 4-3 in 10 innings, then the series in Game 6. In his autobiography, Jackson described his involvement in the play as a "sacrifice thigh."3
Pulli was the first AL, NL, or MLB umpire to use Instant Replay in a game. In 1999, the Marlins were hosting the Cardinals when Pulli used Instant Replay to review a home run call he had made.4 The Marlins' Cliff Floyd had hit a ball to the top of the left field scoreboard, near the yellow line that separated in- from out-of-play. Originally ruled a home run, Pulli reversed the call to a double, after consulting a dugout TV monitor. The Cardinals won the game, 5-2. After the game, the NL League Office declared the umpires erred in using Instant Replay. MLB would not use Instant Replay again for almost a decade.5
Along with fellow umpire, Rich Garcia, Pulli was placed on probation by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, in 1989 when he learned that they had placed bets on non-baseball sporting events with an illegal bookmaker. Don Zimmer, who at the time was the manager of the Chicago Cubs, was also placed on probation by Vincent for the same offense.6
Pulli was also one of 22 umpires who participated in the 1999 Major League Umpires Association mass resignation, orchestrated by the association’s executive director, Richie Phillips. In response to the resignation, major league baseball hired replacement umpires.7 Subsequently, Pulli was one of thirteen umpires who was not rehired by the league. Instead he was allowed to retire and was later hired back as an umpire supervisor.6
After his retirement, Pulli’s experience as an umpire was instrumental in baseball’s use of the QuesTec, an advanced technology that allowed baseball to observe and grade the home plate umpire’s ability to call balls and strikes. Many umpires, including Ted Barrett, believed that the use of the technology dramatically changed the way umpires judged the strike zone and that he, and others, adjusted their calls to the technology. In Bruce Weber’s 2009 book on umpiring, Barrett claimed that Pulli would call him after games and encourage him to shrink his strike zone after watching Barrett call pitches several inches off the plate as strikes.8
- The Official Major League Baseball Fact Book 2002. The Sporting News. 2002. p. 501. ISBN 0-89204-670-8.
- Jackson, Reggie (1984). Reggie. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. pp. 231–232. ISBN 0-345-31216-3.
- "Marlins object to umps watching TV". CNN. June 1, 1999.
- "NL president: Umpire erred in consulting replay". CNN. June 2, 1999.
- Weber, Bruce (2009) As They See ‘Em: a Fan’s Travel in the Land of Umpires. New York: Simon and Schuster, page 28
- ”Frank Pulli, 78 – Baseball umpire was the first to use instant replay” The Washington Post, September 1, 2013, page C8
- Weber, pages 32, 198-199, 251