That’s what makes us humans being.
— Van Halen
When Major League Baseball players make an error, they might kick the ground over the mistake, fans will most assuredly boo and their pitcher may give them a brief staredown.
But the game goes on.
If there’s a close play in a Major League game this year, though, this is what happens: (1) The manager comes out of the dugout and chats up the ump making the call, usually amiably. All the while, he’s keeping an eye on the dugout. (2) On a signal from a designated coach, the manager has an opportunity to challenge the call. (3) If he does, the umpiring crew will collect near the home team’s dugout, and the crew chief will get on headphones connected to the office of some mysterious all-seeing guru in New York.
(4) For a period of a minute or two on up to 15 minutes — depending on how many disputed calls are backed up — the umpires will wait while the New York guru goes over replays of the play in question, deciding whether the ump made the right call or not. (5) Finally, after what can seem an interminable delay in the game, the ump renders the New York replay ruling: Call confirmed or we blew it.
There might be a (6) — manager argues against the ruling — although if he does said manager knows he’ll automatically be ejected from the game.
Welcome to the new and improved (?) Major League Baseball of the digital age.
In a quest to “always get the right call” — and, let’s be honest, in an attempt to copy the wildly popular National Football League and even NCAA football — MLB owners voted to allow managers to challenge umps’ calls starting this season. The results thus far have been way underwhelming, to say the least.
Baseball is a beautiful game, one that develops its own special rhythm with each nine innings played. Slowing it down with not-so-instant replay does the game a disservice, interrupts the rhythm and, quite frankly, is an annoyance. And that’s even if your team wins a replay challenge.
Already this year, fans of the Atlanta Braves have had to watch the end of a game delayed for a few moments while the all-seeing eye determined if first baseman Freddie Freeman had kept his foot on the base on a throw that eventually pulled him off the base. Fans waited impatiently while the umps huddled and finally gave the signal that Freeman had held the base and the game was officially over.
Here’s what I don’t understand about this search for umpiring perfection in baseball … or, for that matter, in the much faster-paced game of football: How are sports improved by long, drawn-out challenges to decisions made by generally well-trained officials who are typically the only people in the world who know and understand the rules of their games?
Sports are, for the time being, at least, played by human beings who are burdened as we all are with human failings. It’s just part of our DNA. Even sports’ great ones — the Labron Jameses and the Peyton Mannings and the Mike Trouts — make errors. If they didn’t, if they didn’t at least occasionally experience human lapses, I can’t imagine fans maintaining their childlike thrill for the games.
Umpires are human, too. We curse them and wonder over their parentage and call for a law that allows the death penalty for particularly egregious calls, but the truth of the matter is these guys usually get it right. And the human element that they bring to sport is just as much a part of the games as the human factor of the players. The umps just don’t make nearly as much money.
Some of the most memorable moments in sports are tied to blown calls by officials, errors that eventually helped decide the outcome of world championship-level competition. But I’ll still take that over some geek watching video footage 2,000 miles away determining the outcome of a game played and officiated by humans.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at email@example.com.