Baseball

We get MLB delays instead of arguments: it's excellent

Posted June 9

Crazy, spirited arguments between managers and umpires are a baseball tradition and have amused fans for years. Earl Weaver made it an art form years ago as the Baltimore Orioles’ skipper.

In Major League Baseball, you rarely see those anymore and, for sake of argument, I contend that it’s no big loss.

Why? Because of the reason that you don’t see them.

If a manager thinks the umpire got the call wrong — with the exception of balls and strikes — instead of arguing, he asks for a replay review. Those don’t always go the manager’s way. But more often the correct call is made — either with a reversal or allowing the original call to stand — and there is no argument from the manager afterward.

In the minor leagues and in college baseball before the NCAA tournament’s Super Regionals, arguments are the only recourse. North Carolina first-base coach Scott Forbes’ brief argument after the Tar Heels’ season-ending loss to Davidson Sunday — which never was going to change anything — was his only recourse.

Some people may not like the delays that replay reviews create. But in MLB’s system, the delays are worth it.

There have been many times in the last two seasons as a Chicago Cubs fan that I’ve appreciated a review reversing an umpire’s bad call. There are, of course, other times when I don’t like it because the Cubs were getting the benefit of a bad call before replay proved that the umpire got it wrong.

It feels like going back in time to watch minor-league or college baseball in that regard, at least before the Super Regionals.

I’ve seen some pretty heated arguments between head coaches in college or managers in the minors and umpires in the last year or so. Those same arguments never would happen at the major-league level. Instead of a manager directing invective against an umpire in a fruitless attempt to get the call changed, the review is used and the call actually might be changed.

Watching a college or minor-league game is frustrating when you see what appears to be a bad call and know that there’s no way it’s going to get reversed. Just like those major-league arguments we saw for years, college coaches or minor-league managers are only putting on a show. Or perhaps they hope for a break later in the game.

There were two plays in the ninth inning of UNC’s defeat that certainly would be reviewed had it been an MLB game.

With the Tar Heels trying to rally, Brandon Riley was sent home attempting to score the tying run. He slid by Davidson catcher Jake Sidwell but didn’t touch the plate. When Riley tried to go back to touch it, Sidwell tagged him out.

In a mistake also made in a “Bull Durham” scene, the plate umpire first signaled safe but then signaled that Riley was out. That would have certainly merited a replay review but one that would have confirmed that he was out.

Then there was a close play at first base with a baserunner at third base representing the potential tying run and two outs. Davidson first baseman Brian Fortier arrived at first base just before UNC’s Michael Busch, who was called out to end the game. But it wasn’t clear that Fortier’s foot touched the bag.

Forbes immediately complained and motioned that Busch was safe. As always in these cases, his protest wasn’t about to change anything. In an MLB game, head coach Mike Fox would have called for a replay review and, perhaps, it would have changed.

The replay showed that Fortier’s foot appeared to be off the bag but it wasn’t clear that his heel wasn’t touching the bag.

In an MLB game, there probably would have been a replay with a clear angle that would make it easy to determine if Fortier’s foot was on the bag. And either the game would have proceeded with Busch safe at first and the game tied or some Tar Heels fans wouldn’t spend the whole offseason thinking that the first-base umpire possibly cost them the chance to force a deciding game.

There are many traditionalists who shy away from what I’d like to see as the next step for MLB games: Using an electronic eye to call balls and strikes. I used to be against it, but it’s irritating to see strike zones vary from day to day or even over the course of a game. It works for tennis, so why not baseball?

Once we get that done, there shouldn’t be any reason for arguments!

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