Bud Selig, the Commissioner (cough, hack, sputter) of Major League Baseball has announced that he will retire after the 2014 season. To that I say, “Huzzah! The King is dead! Long live the King!”
At long last the swath of destruction that he has clear-cut through the fertile fields of the game of baseball will be brought to an end. That is, if he really does retire.
What brought my baseball bile to a bubbly froth was his decision to leave us with a scorched earth escalation of the use of replay in baseball. Here is the rule in a nutshell: each manager gets one replay challenge to start the game, and if he wins a challenge, he may challenge again.
Those words on paper seem innocuous enough, but let me break it down further. A disputed play occurs. A manager saunters out onto the field to talk to the umpires. After enough time passes so the guys back in the clubhouse can watch the replays enough times to relay to the manager whether or not he should challenge, he officially challenges the call.
Then the umpires discuss the challenge to make sure they understand what the manager is challenging. The Men In Blue then stroll leisurely to the communications depot somewhere behind the plate. The call is then reviewed by a crew at MLB headquarters in New York City, once they get back from their bagel break at Zabars. New York City!? Then the verdict is issued and sent back to the ballpark. Finally the umpires return to the field and correct or uphold their original call. If a manager wins his challenge, he keeps it. To use again.
Now, I love a quick baseball game. Some of my favorite games of all time were crisp games played in just over two hours. That shows just how old I am, because the game of baseball has been undergoing a time expansion for many years. The average game in the MLB is now hovering right around three hours, and many careen right past that mark. I simply can’t hold my $14 beer that long. Nor can I afford to drink $14 beers for that long.
Not all of this expansion of the game can be blamed on Vigo, I know. Much of it has to do with completely ridiculous and unnecessary managerial moves that occur from the seventh inning on. Technology and spreadsheets, combined with an attempt by tobacco-chewing coaching staffs to understand Saber-metrics has resulted in an obsession with getting the correct “match-ups,” instead of telling a pitcher to just “throw the damned ball past this guy.”
One time at Dodger Stadium, I watched a manager who I considered to be the modern day Human Rain Delay (with apologies to Mike Hargrove) – Jim Tracy – change pitchers on three consecutive batters in the eighth inning . . . with no one on base! So Selig is not entirely to blame for the games becoming a war of attrition against the fan’s wallets. But he will be after this.
With each manager having potentially two challenges, and even more possible from the seventh inning on if the crew chief decides he wants to challenge his own crew’s call, the time it will take to play the last three innings expands exponentially. What may have been a swift and snappy game that reaches the seventh inning after an hour and thirty, will grind to a halt as we watch the umpires leave the field and wait while the yahoos at the league office review the play and get back to them. One crew at the league office monitoring every game in progress. No backlog there. And technology works perfectly every time it is used.
Stadiums being built after 2014 will have to have hotel rooms for all 48,000 fans so they can see the end of each game the next damned day.
One of my favorite parts of the game has been taken away. Prior to this season, when a questionable call occurred, it would get very exciting. The player would jump up and down and scream at the ump, spittle flying; the manager would run out and try to shove in front of the enraged player to keep him from getting thrown out of the game. The umpire would get all huffy and argue back. Dirt would be kicked. The manager would turn his hat backwards so he could argue even more vehemently a 1/4 inch from the umpire’s nose. The fans scream louder than ever, and reach a fevered pitch when the manager is ejected, and their contempt is verbally showered down on the field for the next few batters.
It is glorious.
But now, in the antiseptic version of MLB, when a questionable call occurs and the manager challenges a call, the umpires leave the field, the players all hang around and talk to each other and catch up on investment advice, and the crowd gets real quiet and real bored for the next three minutes. For three minutes, nothing happens. And I mean nothing. Then when the umpires finally stroll back onto the field and either uphold or reverse the call, the crowd gives a half-hearted sigh of approval or disappointment, and the game continues. Three lost minutes that none of those people will ever get back.
I choose the argument and the ejection. And the entertainment. The stories of the injustices meted out by the incompetent umpires last for generations, becoming part of a team’s folklore. Jim Joyce’s unexplainable call that cost Tiger pitcher Armando Galaragga a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning will live forever. Rich Garcia refusing to call fan interference on young Jeffrey Maier cost the Orioles in 1996. No one has forgotten Don Denkinger’s blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Reggie Jackson sticking his hip out to deflect a throw from Bill Russell and not getting called for interference in the 1978 World Series has never been forgiven by Dodger fans and that happened 36 years ago.
Years from now, do you think you will get in a heated exchange with a drunk guy in a Boston bar over a World Series call that was overturned by replay? “He was so safe.” “Yeah, he was.” “Okay, see ‘ya.”
So, to see this man, this Bud Selig creature who reached his position by essentially executing a coup against a true commissioner, Fay Vincent, in 1992, leave us with this parting shot is unforgivable. Not that that is his only crime. The strike of 1994-1995 was under his watch, and let’s not forget that he was an owner during the period when owners were convicted of collusion against the players. He is responsible for calling the 2002 All Star Game a tie, and then subsequently hatching the imbecilic “this time it counts” rule change that awards the World Series home field advantage to the winner of the All-Star game. The All-Star exhibition game.
And no eulogy of the Bud Selig empire would be complete without mentioning that under his watch, the use of PED’s exploded. Oh sure, he is trying to get out in front of that issue now, but it was he, and all his collusionary co-owners who let the genie out of the bottle in the 80’s and 90’s, and looked the other way while puffed-up, pock-marked, no-neck guys hit ridiculous amounts of gargantuan home runs, with no regard to their future health, the health of kids across the country, or the fact that they were CHEATING.
I love the game of baseball. Always have. So much so that I took a trip with a good buddy of mine back in 1984 and saw a game in every major league ballpark in the country. I have watched as all those ballparks, with the exception of Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger, Anaheim and Oakland have been replaced. I even live the life of a Giants fan going to games in Dodger Stadium as I have for the last 30 years, and still get a kick out of every game I see.
But Selig’s final gift to the fan of baseball is one I would like to return. Let’s keep the emotion in the game. Let’s allow the human frailty to continue to be exposed on a major stage, because that is where the drama of the moment flourishes. Let’s continue to add to the legends of all the storied franchises of baseball, complete with the mistakes, the injustices and the eventual victories.
Let’s let the door hit the Antichrist on the way out.