Musings: I Miss a Good Flight

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

I MISS A GOOD FIGHT

Rhubarb. Donnybrook. Fracas. All are words that were once used regularly in written

accounts of baseball games. They described arguments between umpires and players or

managers that used to occur with some frequency during the course of a game. Those

colorful terms and the disagreements they described have for the most part faded into

obscurity, and in a way it’s too bad.

Beginning in the 2014 season (Good Lord, is that all its been?) instant replay has been a

fact of life in major league baseball although it was used on a limited basis for several

years before that. And it’s worked. There are still some wrinkles in the system but replays

have proved to be a valuable tool in getting calls right.

But there have been trade-offs, and one of them is the old fashioned donnybrook. It’s rare

these days (or nights) that we see a manager and an umpire going toe to toe at one

another. That’s what made the argument between Red Sox manager John Farrell and

umpire crew chief Bill Miller the other night so refreshing – and so much fun to witness.

They were literally nose-to- nose, faces red, spittle spewing from both their mouths. It was

great, just like in the old days when prehistoric creatures like Billy Martin and Earl

Weaver used to roam the baseball world preying on umpires and getting tossed out of

games in the process. Not that the umpires were victims; after all, they won every

argument. And some of them were pretty haughty about it.

The dispute the other night was not covered by the replay rule. Fernando Abad was on

the mound in a game against the Angles when the batter, Kole Calhoun, stepped out of

the box and the home plate umpire called time. As that was happening Miller, umpiring

at third base, called a balk on Abad, allowing a runner on third base to score. Farrell came

out of the dugout claiming time had been called before the balk was called, and you can’t

commit a balk or do anything else, for that matter, while time is out. It all began

reasonably enough, but Miller eventually took the heat, gave Farrell an ultra-theatrical

heave ho sign, and the fight was on. It was, to be honest, great television, something

we’ve missed these past few years.

The upshot of the whole thing was that Farrell was suspended for a game for making

contact with Miller. After all, it’s difficult not to touch the other person while exchanging

bodily fluids – in this case, spit. He was not, however, fined. That’s probably because he

was right. The video replay clearly showed that the balk was called well after the home

plate umpire signaled time out.

Let’s face it, with the advent of instant replay some of the passion has been taken out of

the game. The arm-waving, dirt-kicking histrionics are a thing of the past, like pay

telephone booths. I suppose they still exist, but try to find one.

The other change is in the umpires’ image. They have become almost human. If a

manager questions a call he simply signals by making a gesture of putting on ear phones

and a couple of umpires jog over to the third base line, put on actual earphones, and await

a decision from on high. Once that decision is made everyone just shrugs and goes on

with the game. There’s nary a snarl or a cussword in the process. Nobody yells, “Kill the

umpire!”

What ever happened to good old-fashioned umpire loathing?

THE UMPIRE

I bring you sad news, in fact, even dire.

Nobody loves a baseball umpire.

Such universal lack of affection

Has to lead to a sense of rejection.

Neither team trusts him, he makes their skin crawl,

One side will be mad whatever his call.

If it’s against you, the bum is a crook.

And if you agree he’s just a poor shnook.

He’s a figure of scorn, someone we all shun.

But the poor devil is some mother’s son.

So remember, before he screws up the next pitch,

That every umpire’s a son of person who probably isn’t too crazy about him herself.