THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Instant replay: Will it put umpires out of business?
Go back and draw a big red circle around Wednesday, August 20 on your calendar. You'll want to remember that date when regaling your grandchildren about the day baseball died.
On August 20, MLB management and the umpires union signed an agreement to allow video review of home run boundary calls. Did the ball clear the fence? Did it pass the foul pole in fair territory? In the words of Levar Burton, you don't have to take my word for it.
If I ever need a great lawyer, I'm hiring MLB attorney Dan Halem. A lawyer who's silver-tongued enough to convince the umpires union to sign their own death warrant can represent me any day.
Unlike a lot of baseball fans and Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, I never thought umpires were the dumbest people on earth, but I've revised my opinion. Sure, it was an umpire's bad call at first base that cost the Cardinals the 1985 World Series, but que sera, sera, right?
Who among us has no regrets? We've all spent sleepless nights wondering what we could have done differently, if our words or actions cost us the relationship, the promotion, the discount on car insurance. In the course of human endeavor, "what might have been" is one of the greatest burdens we bear. If we're smart, we learn from our mistakes and try to do better; we don't throw in the towel and give someone else the right to make decisions for us.
I'm not trying to be flippant, but I didn't realize umpires were so sensitive. They must be: could anything besides self-loathing have prompted the union to sign a paper making itself obsolete? The men in black must be so fragile that they can't bear another season of criticism, of sleepless nights filled with regret.
Unless of course they're just stupid.
On Tuesday, August 19, the umpires union's governing board voted to boycott a conference call with MLB management. Apparently– and who could believe this– Major League Baseball's decision to implement instant replay put too many limitations on umpires.
Denying the umpires on the field the right to review plays and putting replay into the hands of a supervisor didn't fly? Installing replay cameras in unsecured public areas seemed dubious? Taking all the umpires off the field during a review while leaving players unsupervised proved problematic?
To no avail, the umpires union had bombarded Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice-president for baseball operations, with those issues for more than six weeks leading up to August 20. Having taken such a strong stance for so long, what happened between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning to make the union fold?
"The goal is always to get the call right," Jimmie Lee Solomon told the Canadian Press on Saturday, August 23.
Who can find fault with that? Not the umpires union.
My guess is Solomon threw down that gauntlet in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, and the umpires union had no countermove. My guess is Major League Baseball promised that if the union agreed to a speedy resolution to the replay issue, they would iron out the kinks later and give the umpires their due.
By conceding that one umpire would stay on the field while the rest review the replay, MLB convinced the umpires union that they were sincere, that they were really concerned with umpires' rights.
And I might believe them too, except– the replay video will be fed to MLB technicians in New York who will prepare and "provide feeds for umpires at ballparks."
To anyone who wasn't terminally stupid, that would be the dealbreaker. If the MLB controls the video, the umpires are totally useless. Their eyes don't matter and their judgment doesn't matter because Major League Baseball has the potential to let the umpires see what they want them to see. It's just a hop, skip, and a jump to total futility.
If the umpires signed a deal like that, I reckon they proved they are the dumbest people on earth. I guess Bobby Cox was right.