I’m not enjoying this year’s version of Major League Baseball as in years past.
Don’t get me wrong! I love baseball. Always have, always will. But there is something different about the 2014 season.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until the other day. I was watching my beloved Detroit Tigers, winners of the last three consecutive American League Central championships and three straight appearances in the AL Championship Series, when it finally hit me.
I have yet to see a good manager-umpire confrontation.
These confrontations are not happening anymore, mainly because MLB has started using instant replay much in the way the NFL uses it.
Managers have at least one challenge to use each game. If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, the manager who challenges the play retains the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.
Once a manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the umpire crew chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call.
Home run and other boundary calls will remain reviewable under the procedures in place last season in which only those that came anywhere near the fair pole were reviewed.
To challenge a play — which include a multitude of reviewable events, including close plays at any base and home plate, trap catches in the outfield, fair and foul balls, and more — the manager simply communicates his intention to challenge a play.
There are no face-to-face confrontations, shouting matches, dirt kicking or base-throwing antics. Gone are the days when the manager stormed out of the dugout in defense of his players.
The camera is now the impartial judge and jury.
Unfortunately, it has changed the contentious relationship we’ve grown accustomed to when it comes to pro baseball. It was always a part of the game, just like fights are a part of the NHL and hard hits are a part of the NFL. We now live in an environment when, if something doesn’t go our way, we must find vindication through any means possible.
For players like Armando Galarraga, instant replay came a little too late.
On June 2, 2010, Galarraga had pitched 8 2⁄3 perfect innings against the Cleveland Indians, but his perfect game bid disappeared on the 27th batter after what was ruled an infield hit. Then-rookie Jason Donald hit a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tossed to Galarraga — who was covering first base — but first base umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly called Donald safe on a close play, ending the perfect game and no-hitter.
Galarraga retired the next batter, completing the one-hitter, though many Tigers fans prefer to call it “the 28-out perfect game.” Donald was clearly out on the play, and the look on Galarraga’s face when Joyce proclaimed Donald safe told it all.
Joyce acknowledged his gaffe and made a very public apology to Galarraga, who was never really the same after that. Up to that point, Galarraga was considered one of the better pitchers in the majors. He’s now pitching in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan.
I love that instant replay will — hopefully — eliminate any future instances of incorrect calls costing someone a chance to place their name in the history book or keep a team from winning a championship. And because of all the camera at ballparks these days, baseball has become much calmer because of it.
Maybe I’m just old-school and too accustomed to watching the game played the way it used to be played. I grew up in an era when the Sparky Andersons, Earl Weavers and Billy Martins of the world weren’t afraid to kick up a little dust and go nose-to-nose with the ump — and get thrown out of a game or two — in defense of their players on what they felt were “bad” calls.
Change is difficult and, I suppose, I will grow to like it more as time wears on. At least we still have YouTube to watch the good-old days of manager-umpire confrontations.