There is a lawyer in each of us struggling to claw its way out and sue. Yet most of us—because we learnt to heed our mothers and are kind to animals and children, and because we imbibe freely the consolations of philosophy and lead a balanced, moral life—restrain these dark impulses.
Others—giving themselves over to the demons of Anger, Envy, and Greed, and who hold the detestable belief that perfection can be had in this Earthly life—fail. It is these intemperate fellows responsible for besieging mankind with awful Utopian schemes, like car alarms, back-up warning beepers, NPR, and “instant” replay in sports.
Instant my foot. Why, it’s very name is a lie. As is the belief that by instituting this vile scheme finally—finally!—the sport will have reached its ideal.
What is the biggest complaint you hear about baseball? Boring? Slow? Too long? The Powers That Be have discovered a way to boost these lamentations and drive away even more potential viewers. In other sports it takes minutes for each scan of the video, minutes which grow longer and more frequent every year. Why should baseball be different?
The kicker is that the most ardent admirers of Technology as Salvation forget about false complaints. How often does a peeved coach petition the referees for a review only to discover his petition is groundless and that the referees were right after all? Often. And how often is the reply ambiguous? Often. Are we now to be treated to the absurd spectacle of Billy-Martin-type managers kicking dirt onto the screens of “instant” replay machines?
The example on everybody’s mind is Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga, who had been throwing a perfect game—a true rarity in the game—until, in the ninth inning in nearly the last play of the game, umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first and called a man safe who was so obviously out that even my Grandmother could see it, and she has been gone these ten years.
Outrageous! Calumny! Pandemonium! Tears of rage! Tears of remorse! Tears galore! Sickening. Ty Cobb would have charged the field with a bat and beat, not the umpire, but the whiners on the diamond and in the stadium. (Incidentally, unlike fans and sports writers, Galarraga took it like a man and laughed it off on the mound.)
Maybe you’re still concerned about Galarraga, but that means you don’t see it. That you can’t guess from the clues. We are still talking about it! If Joyce hadn’t been concentrating on trying to clear the baseline with a stream of spittle and had made the right call, then what? Well, Galarraga, who is already on his way out (Rockies’ AAA affiliate the Sky Sox), would soon be sitting on a barstool in some back-alley bar in Caracas trying to tell the poor sot next to him how he had once thrown a perfect game. Yawn.
But now he has a story worth retelling. “I had a perfect game,” he probably starts. “But for an inept umpire.” His listeners move closer. “It was the top of the ninth…”
And we each of us have the same story! Tell me, average baseball fan, the names and teams of all the other pitchers who have had perfect games. A few stats geeks have this ferreted away in their little grey cells, but most don’t. But everybody knows the story of Galarraga the Unlucky, Galarraga the Betrayed. Galarraga the man who has at least this one great thing he can carry with him for the rest of his life.
Right now the scheme is to allow reviews for everything but balls and strikes. That’s right now. But the impatience of Utopians is legendary and it won’t be long before there are ear-splitting calls for devices to replace umpires. Think not? Then read this:
Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said the expanded replay might not go far enough. Johnson told reporters in Washington that the league ought to consider an “electronic strike zone” to monitor calls of balls and strikes.
Yes, change the game irrevocably. Make comparisons between now and the past impossible. Forget that the game is a human event and imperfect and it is the imperfections that make it vivid and worth following. But why stop at replacing umpires with machines? Replace the players, too! Heck, simulate the whole thing on a computer and run the “season” flawlessly in a snap and report the results to whatever fans are left.
Sigh. All we have left to us is soccer, the only sport which still (mostly) holds out.