Listening to a radio broadcast of the St. Louis Cardinals-Milwaukee Brewers game the other night, there was a close play at first base that brought Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke running from the dugout to discuss things with the umpire.
“Sure has changed the game,” said broadcaster Mike Shannon to his booth partner John Rooney.
What had changed, according to the long-time broadcaster and former Cardinals player? Not a manager protesting a call he disagreed about with an umpire, for sure. But the fact that there was a new Major League Baseball rule allowing for selected calls to be reviewed on video is new this season.
The game stops, sometimes for minutes, as umpires get to watch a video replay of the previous play and discuss whether or not the original call was right or wrong. After some delay, the call either stands or is reversed and the game resumes. Delays of batters stepping in and out of the box or pitchers futzing around on the mound are comparably much shorter and everyone complains about those. Replay delays are measured in minutes, not seconds.
Not the way forward
Once upon a time the umpire’s decision was inviolate. There was no official second-guessing. Umpires were the law and they enforced the law. Eventually, close calls evened out over the course of a season. Managers who blew their tops kicked dirt on the umps and then were kicked out of the game.
In a society that has become obsessively dependent on technology it shouldn't be a surprise that replays are in vogue. But somehow it feels wrong to take the human factor out of officiating. Yes, there are always going to be close plays where one side views the result with satisfaction and the other side vehemently disagrees. In the purist’s mind, those were the breaks of the game.
For the average fan who owns a telephone that does everything, including even occasionally dialling a number to another person, replays are an extension of the same kind of technology that also permit those phones to give driving directions, hold hundreds of songs, and allow the owner to watch the game on television without actually watching a television.
Delaying the game
It’s the delays that drive me crazy. Games are long enough without additional breaks being factored into the mix. Umpires were renowned for calling them as they see them. These days they may still make the initial call based on what they see, but someone else may think they saw things differently and whistle for a time out.
Baseball is out front saying that the new way is better because it will ensure that things are called properly. It was not so long ago that umpires claimed a 99 percent success rate. Now there is no longer trust in what the umpire says. That doesn't seem so good for the game.
I am of a mind to think what the umpire rules should stand – except in cases where the rest of the umpires on the field consult and inform him the call should be reversed. The rulebook should permit that type of consultation for any type of play. Somehow that seems more appropriate than resorting to video toys to evaluate the call.
It is definitely old-fashioned and old school, but it seems better for baseball if the umpire remains the main authority figure on the field rather than a TV screen. I suspect Mike Shannon would agree.