Musings by Dick Flavin: I Miss a Good Flight


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?


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.

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