Do you ever wonder what the umpires are saying to one another as they huddle up — the crew chief having donned a clunky, ill-fitting headset — and wait for the no-goodniks at baseball’s Replay Command Center in New York to render their latest time-sucking, momentum-killing, inevitably anticlimactic decision?
I suspect it goes something like this:
“Are you sure you got a good look at that play, Tom?”
“I don’t know, Frank. These games have gotten so long, I’m not sure I could tell you what day it is.”
“How about you, Russ?”
“Did you get a good look at that play, Russ?”
“What play, Frank?”
The truth is, I don’t even want to know. It’s nothing against the umps, mind you. My beef is with instant replay — in all sports, and in all applications. What’s a mature, reasoned way to put it? I can’t flippin’ stand it.
If mistakes made by umpires, referees and all other game officials are wrong, I don’t want those maddeningly imperfect sons of guns to be right.
Players and coaches make mistakes all the time, don’t they? It used to make sick, twisted sense when the stripes made mistakes, too. And most of us could handle it. On some level, most of us probably appreciated it. Officiating mistakes could make you very happy or, more likely, mad enough to curse at your great-aunt Dotty, but either way they made you feel something. And feeling something is the key to coming back to watch again and again.
It’s not worth the painstaking evaluation for every call to be right, and not only because games never stop seeming to suffer more interruptions that make them drag on longer. Human error is a great — yes, great — part of sports. It ignites passion. The biggest mistakes are worn like noble scars by teams and fans and passed down through generations. This is true — as true as a ball through Bill Buckner’s legs — when it comes to officiating blunders, too.
If umpire Don Denkinger hadn’t preposterously ruled the Royals’ Jorge Orta safe at first base in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series — essentially costing the Cardinals a championship — there wouldn’t be a wonderful baseball rivalry in Missouri. There’d be cardboard pizza, barbecue sauce, Sen. Josh Hawley and did I mention the cardboard pizza?
Think of Colorado’s “Fifth Down” college football win at Missouri in 1990, still almost impossible to believe. In the ultimate clown act, the refs forgot to count a down — enabling the Buffs to score on fifth-and-goal, win a game and go on to share the national championship. Who doesn’t love a good clown act?
Think of fan Jeffrey Maier reaching way over the outfield fence in the 1996 American League Championship Series to royally screw over the Orioles and help turn Yankees rookie Derek Jeter — a home run!? — into a blockbuster superstar. Or Brett Hull’s skate in the crease on his Stanley Cup-clinching goal for Dallas against Buffalo in 1999. Or the perfect game stolen from Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga in 2010 on an egregiously wrong call by ump Jim Joyce.
Each of them was cruel, cringeworthy, heinous and horrible. Thank goodness and God bless America.
Once in a while, replay serves a higher purpose by taking millions of viewers a full step beyond apoplectic. Remember Tom Brady’s “Tuck Rule” fumble being overturned in the 2001 playoffs, leading the Patriots past Oakland en route to their first Super Bowl win? Or the Lions losing a game at Soldier Field in 2010 after Calvin Johnson caught a ball in the end zone, got a foot down, then the other foot, then his butt, a knee, a hand — no one had ever been more down and in possession of a ball. But of course! Overturned. Or the Packers losing to the Seahawks on a Monday night in 2012 on a last-ditch play — upheld, pathetically — dubbed the “Fail Mary”?
Indeed, those refs’ colossal flubs were pretty awesome, too. I wouldn’t remember any of those games without them.
Mostly, though, replay is just lame. We saw it all season in college basketball, when close game after close game devolved into an annoying, interminable string of late stoppages to review possession, time on the clock, hard fouls, “Ted Lasso” — you name it. We see it in the NBA, too.
We saw it Thursday night at Wrigley Field, when Kris Bryant, as the potential winning run, attempted to steal second in the ninth inning and beat the throw to the bag by a mile. Only after an extensive review and a consultation with NASA and the NSA was it determined that Bryant was out — for coming off the bag so slightly, almost imperceptibly, while being tagged that every umpire in the history of the game before the age of replay would’ve gotten the call wrong.
And they would’ve been dead right.