With the news that robot umpires will be used in triple A baseball this year, most traditionalists are not thrilled. With the passing of time and bottomline economics driving everything, will we someday go to big league games and not have an umpire looking over the catcher’s shoulder? Next thing you know, we will have a robot pinch hitting with the game on the line. All that might be fine at Chase Field in Phoenix where there are swimming pools in the outfield. Fans who want to sunbathe at a baseball game are not likely to be traditionalists who genuinely care about the game.
The National League has caved to the dastardly designated hitter rule this year, so anything can happen. On that subject, I can hear the damming words of Sparky Anderson, who despised the DH. He won two World Series at Cincinnati and one with Detroit.
I recall interviewing him behind the batting cage before a Tiger game in Detroit one spring. He spat tobacco juice in disgust, and his voice began to rise as if he thought the Commissioner was in earshot. “I hate that (expletive) rule. They (American League executives) don’t like for me to speak out about it, but I will never stop.”
His contempt was so graphic, even though he would win World Series title with the Tigers in 1984, that you would have thought you had asked him to cut off his right arm.
If he were with us today, I suspect he would go into a rage if you brought up the idea of having robot umps calling balls and strikes. And you probably never thought the National Football League would hire women as assistant coaches?
Last weekend, as I enjoyed a respite with the iconic coach of Mississippi State, Ron Polk, who took Georgia to the College World Series in 2001, I thought about the fact that if the minor leagues are going to use robots to call balls and strikes, how long will it be before the big leagues will move in that direction?
After all, if a robot becomes standard, that will enhance the bottom line. And with the owners, that might be something to turn their heads. And if there were a savings there, would the players not want financial consideration for any enhanced economy?
When umpiring lore comes about, I always remember the career of Charlie George, the Brunswick native who was the first big league catcher to become the battery mate of the sensational Bob Feller when Feller first joined the Cleveland Indians.
George, who was of Greek descent, continued from page
was nicknamed “Greek.” He held the record for putouts by a catcher because of Feller’s striking out so many batters in his prime. Greek was behind the plate when Feller struck out 17 batters in a game in 1938. Feller, Greek said, had a powerful fastball, but that his curve almost made him almost unhittable—when he had control of his pitches.
Greek had a journeyman career in which he made the roster of four different Major League teams: Cleveland, Brooklyn, Chicago (Cubs) and Philadelphia(A’s). Hehad a lifetime batting average of .177. He was most famous for a 90-game suspension for slugging an umpire while playing for the Philadelphia A’s in 1945. The umpire, Joe Rue, according to Greek, who took his story to his grave, called him an unprintable name after which Greek slugged him. Joe Rue had another version of what happened, but Greek’s story is one he stuck to all his life. On several occasions to St. Simons Island, I would meet up with Greek at his nephew’s popular restaurant, “Poor Stephens,” and talk baseball. One thing is certain, Greek George never suffered for lack of an opinion. He admitted that hitting an umpire was wrong, but justified his poke based on the words that Rue used. Greek said the umpire called him an s.o.b with a couple of demeaning adjectives attached.
What will managers do if umps become mechanized? If one should become as provoked as Greek George, then there would be nothing to slug except thin air. Technology, for all its good, is tampering with our traditions. Just because it might be good for addressing the overhead, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for the game. When I go to Truist Park again, I am going to say kind words about the men in blue and will, for sure, pull against all designated hitters in memory of Sparky Anderson.