May 3, 2012, 6:31 PM EDT
Major League Baseball’s refusal to leave the Paleozoic Era and evolve peacefully has been somewhat amusing up until now. But on Wednesday we were reminded of just how creaky and derelict the game actually is. That’s when umpire Tim Welke blew a call at first base so egregiously that it startled deer in Kenya. Remember Tim — TV is just waves in space, and one day your call will be seen on some distant planet. Thinking our race feeble and obtuse, we will then be invaded.
The time has come to ask Bud Selig, if baseball can’t have instant replay, can it at least have a laugh track?
But the game’s traditions were written with stone tools, and the old men who run it have no intention of changing them. Purists tout the “human element” as one of the things that keeps the game strong … which is why Roger Clemens is seen in a courtroom more often than Matlock, and needles no longer penetrate Barry Bonds’ skin.
Resisting instant replay is a silly, pig-headed stance, making baseball look like that Japanese soldier who lives on an island and thinks that World War II hasn’t ended.
Hairston, the victim of Welke’s Immaculate Myopia, was in a unique spot, in my opinion. And he failed to take advantage of it. Sometimes the course of human events hands a person a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a difference in the world, if that person would only seize the moment and take a stand. If I were Hairston on Wednesday, I would like to think that something like this might have happened:
VIN SCULLY: “And Mattingly continues to argue his case with umpire Tim Welke, after an absolutely befuddling call at first. What an outrageous call. And Mattingly is heading back to the dugout now … but Hairston isn’t following. Hairston is refusing to leave the base! And the crowd is cheering!”
What if Hairston just stayed on first and refused to leave? We’re living after all in the era of the Occupy Movement, and if that has taught is anything it’s that staying in one place is a stronger force for social change than all the politicians in Congress. We moved into Iraq and Afghanistan, and what did it get us? Heartache. But the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon is changing the world just by sitting still.
So I would have occupied first base. I would have stood there, defiantly, as the umpires converged and tried to convince me to get off the field. Entreaties from my own manager, and stadium security, and finally the police would fail to get me to budge.
SCULLY: “We’re approaching 15 minutes now since Hairston was called out at first, and he’s still refusing to leave the bag. The umpires are conferring, planning their next step. Security is reluctant to use force, and police are nervously eying the crowd, which is threatening to get violent if Hairston is forcibly removed or the game is forfeited.”
As we learned in Gladiator, win the crowd, and you’ll win your freedom. So I would have given them something they’d never seen before.
By now everyone in the stadium has seen multiple replays of Welke’s call, and they are behind Hairston all the way. Home viewers are flooding the Dodgers’ switchboard with support. Or better yet, the Rockies’ switchboard, because the game is in Denver. As the stalemate continues, emails and telegrams (yes, telegrams) are pouring in to MLB headquarters, supporting Hairston and pleading for baseball to adopt instant replay.
Children are printing flyers from their iPhones and canvassing neighborhoods, like a scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Meanwhile, Selig works the phones feverishly, like Edward Arnold as Jim Taylor, orchestrating newspaper smear campaigns against Hairston. But it’s not working. Hairston’s sit-in is winning the day.
Finally, in desperation, the Rockies outfit a bullpen cart with a cowcatcher and first base is uprooted from its mooring, with Hairston along with it. But it is a gentle bulldozing, filled with love. The crowd gives Hairston a standing ovation as the cart rumbles toward an exit.
The next day, photos of Hairston being carted off the field atop a cowcatcher on a bullpen cart flood the internet. FIFA institutes instant replay, and they’re not even involved. Selig knows he is beaten.
In a somber press conference the next day, Selig announces that Major League Baseball will phase in instant replay on select calls by 2022. He is pelted with fruit and road kill, and moves it up to 2014. The crowd cheers.
A statue of the base on which Hairston made his heroic stand is erected in front of Dodger Stadium.
It is immediately stolen.
Vin Scully takes the day off, and Tim McCarver is calling the next Dodgers game for Fox.
McCARVER: “There is only one explanation for Tim Welke’s call at first base, Joe. Of course I’m talking about solar storms.”
Rick’s Cafe Americain appears on Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com. Twitter: @Rickchand.
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