Wednesday, April 9, 2014
It’s Opening Day.
I’m in the middle of my annual ritual of watching baseball games from 1 p.m. until around midnight.
I have my chips and dip, an assorted beverage or two. Feet are propped up on the sofa and I’m horizontal for the next eight hours or so.
It’s the middle of the Atlanta Braves-Milwaukee Brewers game and Ryan Braun appears to leg out an infield hit. Out pops Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, hustling in the direction of first base.
Chip Caray, the Braves announcer says: “Uh-oh, here comes Fredi Gonzalez out of the dugout to...”
And of course I’m ready for the word “argue.”
Three years ago, Bobby Cox would have come hobbling out of the Braves dugout to give anybody in a blue jacket and hat a piece of his mind whether he could spare it or not.
There would have been dirt kicking, spittle spraying, capbill touching, maybe even base throwing and, after 90 seconds or so, Cox would have gotten the thumb and an invitation to watch the rest of the game from the showers.
Or Lou Pinella. Earl Weaver Billy Martin. Take your pick.
But that didn’t happen.
Caray’s commentary instead went this way: “Here comes Fredi Gonzalez out of the dugout to issue a challenge.”
Gonzalez gets to the group of umpires. He chats. He kindly points – no angry jabbing. They all share a chuckle. And then the umpires gather over near the dugout with headsets on while the replay is shown on the big jumbo-tron scoreboard.
Fifty or so seconds later, the umpires break huddle and Braun is called out. And that’s it.
I sat there and heard this big “WHOOSH!” of the wind being taken out of the sails of one of baseball’s most time honored traditions: The Blown Call.
Baseball lore is full of stories about the blown call. Cries of “Kill the umpire!” once rained like spring showers from grandstands throughout America.
Some of the best heckles I’ve ever heard have been made because of blown calls.
“I’ve had better calls from my ex-wife.”
“Ump, you’re missing a good game.”
“Blue, you’re blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other.”
“You couldn’t see the lake if you were standing on the bottom.”
Those verbal gems are all gone. With instant replay there is no longer any need.
We just want to get the call right, Major League Baseball said.
This isn’t right, and I don’t like this instant replay thing. The blown call is part of the tapestry that makes baseball more than just a game, and different from any other sport.
Where would we be if Ken Burkhart didn’t make that phantom tag out call when Elrod Hendricks tagged out Bernie Carbo at the plate with an empty glove?
Instant replay would have shown Hendricks holding the ball in his free hand and maybe the Reds would have beaten the Orioles in the 1970 World Series.
What about the 1985 I-70 World series between K.C. and St. Louis and Don Denkinger’s missed call that cost the Cardinals the World Series? It was very similar to Braun’s play on Opening Day.
Instant replay would have sent Denkinger and Burkhart both into obscurity.
Pinella, Weaver and Martin wouldn’t become the colorful characters they were, and think of all the great commercials we would have missed as a result.
There is perhaps one good thing about instant replay. Maybe instant replay might have determined Carlton Fisk’s most overrrated home run in baseball history as a foul ball.
One can only hope.