By Ron Kantowski
The Las Vegas Review-Journal
On the day baseball bestowed its highest honor upon Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio — and baseball fans fanned themselves in bright sunshine while myriad baseball stories were told at the Hall of Fame ceremony — I discovered a website (sort of) devoted to baseball replay challenges.
I’m not sure the aforementioned quartet would see the relevance. I think somebody such as Bob Uecker would.
As the former catcher and longtime Brewers broadcaster famously said in the movies when rookie sensation Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn — “a juvenile delinquent in the offseason” — made his big league debut and hurled his first pitch against the backstop, a website devoted to replay challenges seems “ju-u-u-st a bit outside.”
The website is called Baseball Savant, and I found it interesting that the Chicago Cubs’ Joe Maddon does not lead all managers in replay challenges, though he spends a lot of time on the field complaining about stuff.
Maddon and the Cubs have 31 challenges; Kevin Cash and Tampa Bay have a baseball-leading 35. But as of this writing, the Cubs and the Phillies were only in the third inning at Wrigley. There still was time for Maddon to close the gap.
Through Saturday’s games, 48.76 percent of baseball plays challenged were overturned; last season, it was 47.65 percent. I guess what this says is that more often than not, the umps get the close ones right, which probably is exactly as it was before Joe Maddon and replay challenges and baseballsavant.com.
Like most guys my age, I’m pretty ambivalent toward instant replay and these challenges: Yes, I prefer the umpires get it right, but not at the expense of further delaying games that are much too long already.
It’s a good thing Phil Cuzzi and the other umpires can’t challenge a manager who brings in a left-handed Paul Assenmacher clone from the bullpen to pitch to just one batter, or some of these games would last longer than a “Hobbit” movie.
If you’re like me, you also may wonder how some of the great games of the past would have turned out with replay challenges — how anticlimactic would it have been, for instance, had Armando Galarraga and the Tigers had to stand around while Jim Joyce and his pals went under the hood to get Galarraga’s perfect game right?
Yeah, Galarraga would have gotten his perfecto, but the spontaneity of the moment would have been destroyed. It’s probably only a matter of time before the seventh game of a World Series is decided in this manner, too.
And one of the greatest plays in baseball’s long and cherished cinematic history also may have come under scrutiny and further review.
I speak not of Giants vs. Dodgers, Oct. 3, 1951, and the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” — and how a coach in the scoreboard at the Polo Grounds may have flashed signs to Bobby Thomson before he hit it.
I speak, of course, of Gas House Gorillas vs. Tee Totalers, 1946, also at the historic Polo Grounds. I’ll let Peter E. Meltzer, author of “So You Think You Know Baseball,” (a cover version of the original “Saturday Evening Post” feature and paperback volume of the same name) take it from here:
“The situation was this: The Tee Totalers were playing the Gas House Gorillas. In the bottom of the fourth, the Gorillas were winning 94-0. Bugs Bunny appears and says he can beat the Gorillas all by himself. Bugs plays every position (simultaneously). Eventually, Bugs takes a 96-95 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
“With one man on and two outs, one of the Gorillas (using a tree for a bat) hits a tremendous drive. To catch it, Bugs takes a “Mellow Cab” and hops a bus to get to the “Umpire State Building.” He takes an elevator to the top, climbs the flagpole and throws his glove at the ball. The ball lands in the glove; Bugs retrieves the glove out of midair. The umpire calls the Gorilla batter out.
“However, based on Rule 7.05(c) — if the umpire judges the act of throwing a glove at the ball intentional, and it’s a fair ball, then each runner including the batter may advance three bases — this was a wrong call. The Gorilla seems to know this. “Out?” he asks incredulously. The Statue of Liberty responds: “That’s what the man said, you heard what he said, he said that.” There the cartoon ends. Under Rule 7.05(c), the runner would have scored and tied the game no matter which base he was on. Even the batter may have scored as well. We’ll never know …”
Upon further review, let the record show that even Joe West and Laz Diaz know the Statue of Liberty can’t speak — though one supposes it’s entirely possible Pittsburgh’s Dock Ellis may have heard the Western Metal Supply Co. warehouse in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter talking to him when he pitched a no-hitter against the Padres under the influence of LSD.
But had instant replay existed in 1946, and were Joe Maddon managing the Gashouse Gorillas, you can bet he would have challenged the call.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.
Ron Kantowski: Cubs manager never met a replay challenge he didn’t like
By Ron Kantowski