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Friday, April 15, 2011
Can I get (another) witness?

Bobby Cox's face red as a beet, his foot stomping with the force and purpose of an enraged bull, eyes narrowed, with his mouth open wide enough to see what he had for lunch.

The former big-league manager was good for at least a few of those displays every year. Sometimes he was mad about a play at the plate or a call at first, sometimes he was arguing balls and strikes. He got tossed to protect his players and to spark his team, and it became as strategic a play for Cox as deciding who to pinch-hit in an important situation.

Starting next year, managers like Cox may have fewer opportunities to kick dirt and throw hats. An Associated Press source says the MLB is likely to use expanded video review in 2012, to allow umpires to look at trapped balls and hits falling down the foul line. Balls and strikes and out-or-safe calls on the bases will not be subject to new replay rules. (So there's still a chance pitchers like Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers can pitch a perfectly thrown, but imperfectly called, game.)

With every suggested change to replay policy, there are "purists" who argue that the sanctity of baseball will be spoiled by taking away the element of human error. Then there are those who argue that an already leisurely game will become downright ponderous if more and more plays are subject to review.

To them, I say "Get over it."

What's so great about human error?

When an ump errs on the side of the opposition, a fan doesn't extol the virtues of preserving tradition. I've certainly never heard anyone yell, "That call was incorrect, but it's really quite enjoyable to see that you're only human, ump! Continue to do your best, even if your best is terribly inadequate and just screwed my team out of three runs!"

Imagine this: The Chicago Cubs are in the World Series, one run away from winning it all for the first time in 102 years, and the home plate umpire incorrectly rules a Starlin Castro walk-off RBI single up the left field line as a foul. The Cubs, in typical Cub fashion, go on to lose the game and the series. Name me a person on earth (excepting perhaps Cardinals and White Sox fans) who would argue that that game was better off with an incorrect, but human, call.

As for the time issue, if you're a fan of baseball, you already understand that the pace of the game will never match that of, say, basketball or hockey. A few extra minutes to get it right won't cause fans to stop watching or attending games. Part of the joy of baseball is the time to take in the sun, the ballpark, a conversation with friends, a hot dog and a few beers.

If you don't like baseball enough to stick around for five more minutes, then you didn't really like baseball in the first place. And in that case, like the Chicago-based website "The Heckler" prints on their T-shirts: "Baseball isn't boring, you are."

In today's world of K-zones, multiple replays and super slo-mo, it's silly to believe that people will continue to accept blown calls. And in all fairness to the umps, they're doing their best. No one can see something as well in real-time as he or she can with several angles, slowed down. I think eventually we'll see cameras calling balls and strikes, too. And I, for one, won't mind. That is, as long as they get the machines equipped with mics so they, too, can make exaggerated strike calls (gotta hear that "steeeeee-rike!").

It's probably best that Cox retired after last season. As Major League Baseball continues to expand the use of replay, there will be fewer and fewer occasions for feisty managers like Cox to unload on an umpire -- and it just wouldn't be the same to watch the guy try to argue with a camera. While fans will miss the blow-ups and rants umps provoke, the important thing is to get it right, whether a human or a machine makes the call.