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
What ever happened to good old-fashioned umpire loathing?
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.