Monday, March 31–a date which will live in ignominy–Major League Baseball officially legalized whining.
It was the bottom of the sixth inning, the Atlanta Braves were down by two in Milwaukee. Brewer Ryan Braun hit an infield bouncer to the Braves’ third baseman, who scooped up the ball off a tough hop and made an awkward throw off his back leg. It was a close call. But first base umpire Alfonzo Marquez–watching from 10 feet away–looked certain. He took a step in and emphatically waved Mr. Braun safe with both arms.
In an instant, Braves coach Fredi Gonzalez squirted out of the dugout to confront the umpire. Then, on Opening Day of the 2014 baseball season, Mr. Gonzalez lodged a formal, official complaint insisting his third baseman’s throw was in time to get the runner out.
Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca got on the phone in the dugout to compare notes with someone who had watched the play on television. Big, bulky headphones with mouthpieces and long cords were dragged out onto the field and handed to umpires. They fitted them over their black caps to plug into their baseball overlords at MLB headquarters in New York City.
There, some 800 miles from Milwaukee, faceless technogeeks rewound the video of the play and watched it over and over from every possible angle. In Miller Park, where the game was actually being played, fans murmured in confusion. The whole scene looked utterly ridiculous.
But this is Major League Baseball today. Under new rules, umpires’ calls on the field can be reviewed at the request of coaches.
It used to be that it took guts to charge onto the field and confront an umpire over a lousy call. The second a coach sprang out of the dugout, he knew that he could be thrown out of the game at any second. He would do it anyway because he honestly believed his had been wronged. Or, in some cases, he knew his player clearly had not been wronged, but needed to be stood up for just on principle. You know, kick a little dirt and scream up a storm.
Either way, it took guts. And–as in life itself–there were no guarantees.
Under this new system, no guts required. There’s no risk. Nobody gets “unreasonable.”
Heck, why even scream or kick dirt? Why turn your hat around so you can get closer into an umpire’s face and shower him with spittle? When a system conforms to such a process guaranteeing the right to complain, it turns “fierce bitching” into “whining.”
I remember growing up that I got into a fair amount of trouble. I was always getting spanked. Eventually it lost its effect.
My greatest fear was the long tail my mother braided out of fuzzy red yarn that my father would pin on any of us children if we tattled on one another. It was an honest-to-God, bright red tattle tail safety-pinned to my backside that I would have to wear to the bank or the grocery store, up and down the street or anywhere my mother had to go on errands.
Nobody established any official replay review system for squabbles and, needless to say, the tattling cleared up in a hurry.
But in baseball today, it is all protected now and any little effete coward with a complaint can jump out of the dugout and–instead of showing guts–lodge a formal, official complaint with Major League Baseball, in accordance with some directive in some section and subsection of the official rules. Why not just station lawyers all around the field and in each dugout so they can quarrel about every little hiccup the game throws anybody’s way?
And here’s another problem with castrating umpires on the field. If they are nothing more than silly eunuchs in black uniforms, why would fans waste the energy to yell at them any more? It is not like you are yelling at any form of actual authority.
Now they are just bystanders who make a temporary call on the field until some nerd in New York City watching on a television can make the real call.
And so Alfonzo Marquez was eviscerated right there beside first base in Miller Park on national television, making baseball history. The first umpire to be overturned.
One footnote: However much Major League Baseball might like to protect the game and everybody from the imperfections of life, certain unfairnesses still find some way to interfere.
When Mr. Gonzalez made baseball history by officially whining about the play at first base, his team was down 2-0. When the game ended, his Braves had lost 2-0. So Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves came out of Opening Day 2014 not just losers, but whiny losers.