Untangled Up In Blue: Could Replay Eliminate Umpire-Manager Arguments In Baseball?

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon argues a call with home plate umpire Doug Eddings during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees Saturday, May 3, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon argues a call with home plate umpire Doug Eddings during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees Saturday, May 3, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

HOST 1: Legendary Yankees manager Billy Martin would have turned 86 today. He was known as much for his pugnacity as his managerial skill. Martin was particularly fond of quarreling with umpires.

HOST 2: Fans adored the tactic. Announcers ate it up. And soon, it may be a relic. As Avi Wolfman-Arent reports, video replay could endanger one of the game’s most popular traditions: umpire-manager arguments.

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Type “Billy Martin” into YouTube, and your first result is this

ANNOUNCER: Uh oh. Billy’s just been tossed out of the game. Uh oh. Here comes the dirt. Here comes the dirt. It’s too muddy. He can’t get the dust up. [0:08]

The video is titled “Billy Martin gets ejected from game,” which could also double as a tidy, six-word summary of Martin’s life. Martin argued with everybody—players, owners, strangers. But it was his run-ins with umpires that made him famous, and whipped fans into a frenzy.

GOLENBOCK: “It would be as though the stadium had levitated.” [0:05]

Peter Golenbock co-wrote Martin’s autobiography and later penned a biography of the manager after his death in a 1989 car crash.

GOLENBOCK: The rise in expectation for whatever Billy was gonna heap on that poor umpire was so great.” [0:05]

Martin, Golenbock says, was a natural-born fighter. But he wasn’t alone. The 1970’s and 80’s birthed an entire generation of skippers known for their madman ways.

GOLENBOCK: Well, Billy Martin, and Earl Weaver…

Fade up AMBI crowd noise

WEAVER: Do it again and I’ll knock you right in your nose.

UMPIRE: I didn’t touch ya

WEAVER: You wish you…

UMPIRE: I did not.

GOLENBOCK: And Sparky Anderson…

ANDERSON: You were right here and he knocked you over and went right around, there’s no way possible.

GOLENBOCK: Some of the other managers. Lou Piniella.

ANNOUNCER #1: Here’s Lou.

ANNOUNCER #2: This could be the one.

ANNOUNCER #1: Yep. There it is. Number one. The first ejection as a Cubs manager for Lou Piniella and he is really letting Mark Weckner have it. Just kicked dirt on him.

Fade down AMBI crowd noise

GOLENBOCK: Were known for their histrionics when an umpire made a bad call. It was great theater. It was something that the fans really, really loved. [0:58]

But the curtain may be closing. This year, baseball expanded its video replay system to include all calls besides balls and strikes. Now managers can simply ask for close plays to be reviewed. And when they do, they don’t holler.

GOLENBOCK: A call is made, and rather than screaming and yelling, the manager walks slowly out toward the umpire…

They stall.

ANNOUNCER #3: Buddy Blacks’ gonna take the slow walk over to first base umpire Bill Welke.

GOLENBOCK: Keeping an eye into the dugout to see that his assistant has seen the play closely enough whether or not to challenge it…

ANNOUNCER #4: Gardy talking to the umpire but looking over the umpire’s left shoulder.

GOLENBOCK: If in fact it looks like the umpire blew the call. The assistant in the dugout nods his head. And the manager merely says I would like to review that play, please.

ANNOUNCER #5: Gibby’s out there smiling. This is not exactly an argument.

ANNOUNCER#6: You know t hat’s one thing instant replay has pretty much eliminated…

GOLENBOCK: It takes all of the screaming and yelling out of the whole issue. [0:47]

Doug Harvey spent three decades in major league baseball…as an umpire.

HARVEY: Now everybody sits there and the manager goes out and says, if you would, would you please… I don’t think that’s baseball. [0:07]

Even though he was on the damp end of those spittle-inducing spats, he says the game is worse off without managers yelling at umpires.

HARVEY: “You’re taking the fans out of it. The fans don’t have anything to holler at now.” [0:05]

As for the abuse he took from irate skippers, Harvey says it’s all just a part of life.

HARVEY: “It didn’t matter to me. I’d just tell ‘em, bring it on, sucker. A good argument never hurt anybody.” [0:06]

Of course that’s what information technology does, it turns uncertainty into certainty—and arguments into agreements. Just as the iPhone eliminated all those idle bar squabbles, so too does instant replay render the umpire-manger dispute obsolete.

Or…almost obsolete. Managers still aren’t allowed to challenge whether a pitch was a ball or a strike. Which means they can still grouse about it.

ANNOUNCER #7: Wait a minute…ah here we go.

ANNOUNCER #8:  And he is thrown out.

ANNOUNCER #7: And Joe is gesturing that ball was on the ground. [0:08]

So far this year there have been 17 manager ejections, the majority over balls and strikes. At the current pace, there would be slightly less ejections than last year according to data from Beyond the Box Score…but actually more than there were in 1988, the last time Billy Martin managed the Yankees…and more than there were in 1977 when Martin won his only World Series as a manager

Despite the small sample-size, it’s still a striking statistic, and it leaves us, as all baseball stories do, with a heartwarming universal truth:

No matter how far technology advances. No matter how hard it becomes to maintain our ignorance. We human beings, in all our brilliance and resilience, will always, always find a way to yell at each other. Avi Wolfman-Arent, Columbia Radio News.

 

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