By Gary Hill
Russ Davis was trying desperately to avoid the tag from Cleveland’s Enrique Wilson between first and second base. The attempt by the Mariners’ third baseman was in vain as umpire Larry Barnett called him out. The call was costly for the M’s as their ninth-inning rally was instantly snuffed out.
Lou Piniella responded to the perceived injustice by explaining his case to Barnett. After a brief conversation, Piniella retreated to the dugout only to learn that he had actually been tossed from the game during the exchange. Piniella shot onto the field like he was launched from a cannon. The rampaging bull went nose to nose with Barnett. He tore his cap from his head, wound up his leg and kicked his hat like he was trying to put it through the uprights for a 60-yard field goal. The kick of the cap was followed by another … then another … then another. The hat received a complete kicking tour across the right side of the diamond at Jacobs Field. Simply mentioning Piniella’s antics beckons a sweeping smile across the faces of most M’s fans.
However, epic blowups like those from Piniella may be a thing of the past. It is clear now that instant replay is coming to MLB in a much more expanded capacity in the very near future. Running on the field to start a dustup with little chance of actual success will be replaced by a mere indication of a disagreement so the call can be reviewed. A manager may still disagree even if a call is not overturned, but it will be difficult for a skipper to muster up the gumption against video evidence.
No more Piniella un-anchoring first base and heaving it into the outfield. No more Billy Martin kicking dirt on a home-plate umpire. No more Earl Weaver turning his cap backwards to stand as close as humanly possible to his target. No more Lloyd McClendon storming off into his clubhouse with a base under his arm.
There is no doubt that big-league managers often put on a display under the guise of disagreeing with a call. They could be trying to send a message to their team. Perhaps they are attempting to shake things up during a tough stretch. The motivations for such a public display are numerous.
It is somewhat strange that fans can receive so much entertainment from two grown people yelling at one another. It is even more bizarre when you consider one of the participants is a roughly 60-year-old man wearing baseball pants. The fact is that arguments between managers and umpires have been a colorful part of baseball history for a long time.
Perhaps the game will be better without the on-field tussles, especially in the context of attempting to be as accurate as possible with calls.
Whatever the case, it is difficult to have an entertaining quarrel with a video machine.