Replay making manager-umpire arguments rare
Polite conversation has replaced the screaming and dirt-kicking antics of the past
Leading the league in the unintended consequences department:
Expanded replay has taken the catharsis right out of the managerial game.
Do you see any managers screaming at any umpires? Do you see any managers kicking dirt, throwing bases or kicking bases and throwing dirt?
There is no point in going out onto the field with a chip on your shoulder over a call that might be reversed. So what used to be a good, old-fashioned confrontation turns into a chat.
The manager goes on to the field and seeks not to unload but to discover. What did the umpire see? And what did the manager's guy watching the video see? The manager speaks to the umpire while waiting for the signal that will tell him whether the call in question is likely to be overturned or confirmed. Should he challenge or should he walk away to challenge on another day, or at least in another inning?
This is the new system. It aspires to accuracy. But the human interchange has changed. And for some of the managers, it has diminished. The classic matchup of angry manager and adamant ump is a thing of the past. Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Earl Weaver -- you can go down the list of the wonderful, managerial outrage highlights, but there probably won't be another manager from this era on who will make his mark in the same way.
There is something gained in the new system; the review, the technology, the theoretical chance for truth and justice to prevail. But there is something lost, too, something that was actually sort of an attraction at the old ballpark -- the manager vs. the umpire. That movie could be no longer playing.
The managers are trying to take the change in, well, good humor.
"It's just turning into a lovefest," said Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. "That's part of it. The umpires are great guys. I have a great relationship with all of them. But it's almost like you can't get upset anymore."
Manager Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals, asked if the days of managers arguing with umpires were at an end, helpfully pointed out one area where there could still be vocal disagreement. "Not balls and strikes, though," Yost said with a smile. "We're still screaming at them for that."
This is the solace for the manager who feels that he wants to utilize his First Amendment right to free speech and disagreement with the umpires. He could get tossed for arguing balls and strikes, but it is the one open area left outside the new review process.
"It's like you've got to challenge yourself to get upset," Maddon said. "Balls and strikes are still there for you. Balls and strikes are open. Checked swings are open.
"But overall, man, it's just one big happy discussion. Because you're waiting for the answer to come, and if it's proved video-wise, what's there to argue about?"
Exactly. The replay video provides the definitive, objective answer. It is no longer the manager's displeasure against the umpire's certainty. The technology has trumped both of them. It is the triumph of machine over man, in that sense. But, you know, if it gets us to the right call …
Another part of this dynamic has been uncomfortable for some managers, perhaps because of its newness, perhaps because they are used to going onto the field to argue, not to enter a holding pattern while they wait for their video people to tell them whether a call should be challenged or not.
"Major League Baseball may not want to hear it, but [a holding pattern] is basically what it is," one National League manager said. "I don't want to be out there like that. I don't want to be out there at all."
The history of baseball does not hold much in the way of managers charging onto the field to confront umpires and then engage in, what, completely polite conversation?
This is new. This is different. This is close to friendly. Who knew that expanded replay was going to be a ticket to, well, civility?
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.