End of the Innocence
It was a different era then, a different time. Salaries were reasonable, fans were loyal to their teams and favorite players, and when umpires missed a call the manager would kick dirt on his shoes. I’m, of course, talking about 2013. Now Major League Baseball is moving into the unknown future of instant replay. They only trail the other pro sports by about 15 years. This season, the majors say their instant replay will be the most comprehensive of all the sports. Almost everything is reviewable, with the exception of balls and strikes, checked swings, trapped balls in the infield and the neighborhood play. That’s the play at second when the infielder doesn’t actually touch the base when turning a double play. Somehow baseball has always put that play in the same category as hand grenades and horseshoes.
What we will be missing out on is the legendary arguments between managers and umpires. Would Billy Martin or Earl Weaver be in the Hall of Fame without their unique debate skills? Doubtful. Watching a manager screaming out of his dugout like a scud missile, aimed right at the umpire, and the umpire ripping his mask off and spreading his stance in anticipation of the arriving war head, is one of life’s purest joys. “Now this is going to get good,” I can remember my dad saying when I was a kid watching a Cubs game with him and Leo Durocher would come hobbling (he must have been 103 by then) out of the dugout to spit tobacco juice into an umpire’s face. Those were the days.
But those days are fading fast. Certainly it will be a fairer game now. Bad calls have ruined games, World Series and very recently, perfect games, but the game will now be different. Already cyber-metrics have taken old school intuition and instincts out of the game and now a manager will likely argue more with his bench coaches and video person about whether to challenge a call, then he will with the umpire. Teams are hiring former umpires to sit back in a video room watching every play, so that he can offer his split second opinion about a particular call. The league says each challenge should only take 60-90 seconds. We know from the NFL that the 60 second rule can quickly expand to 3 minutes. For a game that already moves at the speed of glue, a long delay can be torture.
We’ll see how the new rule goes as we move into this season, surely there will be a learning curve but it will change the game, to paraphrase Don Henley…”Remember when the days were long, and umpires and managers fought like dogs…this is the end of the innocence.”