I was at the Blue Jays’ home opener on Friday. As I no longer live in Toronto, I don’t get to many games anymore, but Opening Day is something special. Forget about Christmas, early April, when spring is supposed to be springing, baseball is getting started, and the hockey playoffs are here… THAT’S the most wonderful time of the year!
The Zweig boys, with their mother/grandmother on Opening Day. For Joyce, Jonathan
and me, this one made us 40 for 40 … but I’m the only one who was also at the
makeup game for the rained out opener in 1980.
Baseball, of course, is a game bound by tradition. And I am a big fan of sports history. But while I admit that I’ve been known to complain that “the game [ANY game] was better when I was younger,” I wouldn’t say I’m truly a traditionalist. I don’t mind modern innovations … but I have to admit that instant replay irks me.
It’s long been called “a game of inches” but now, it seems, that baseball is “a game of painful exactitude which we can measure in fractions of seconds … if we get a good shot in super slo-mo that we can blow up large enough.”
Yes, it’s pretty hard to argue against “getting the call right,” but as others have argued before me, there are rules, and then there is the spirit of the rule. Of course a runner can’t wander off the base with impunity, but is he really supposed to be out if his foot pops off the bag for a fraction of a second? And I really hate the way, in baseball, they linger and waste time while the clubhouse pre-checks the replays first. If you want to challenge a play, I think you should have to challenge it based on what you think you actually saw! After all, that’s how the umpire has to call it.
As I said, it’s hard to argue against getting the call right — and, of course, Armando Galarraga SHOULD have had that perfect game in 2010, and Derek Jeter probably should have been out for fan interference on that Jeffrey Maier home run in 1996. Still, what can I say? The delays (and the fact that they still don’t seem to get the call right every time!) just bother me.
I’m not really trying to argue that we should do away with instant replay … but then again, no one else in a game gets a second chance if they screw up! And once upon a time, it was clear that people believed it was ridiculous to allow TV cameras to make the final call. Of course, this was a long time ago…
Ten years before the first Blue Jays opener, in the last game of the NHL regular season in 1967, Chicago’s Stan Mikita picked up two assists to finish the season as the scoring leader with 97 points. That happened to tie teammate Bobby Hull’s single-season scoring record … but Mikita thought he’d earned a third assist in the Black Hawks’ finale against the New York Rangers.
Stan Fischler, writing in a special to the Toronto Star on April 3, 1967, reported that: “[Black Hawks coach] Billy Reay was bubbling with anger in the Chicago dressing room… Reay was furious over the confusion surrounding Stan Mikita’s point allotment in the game at Madison Square Garden. Officially, Mikita got two assists … [b]ut unofficially, the belief was that Mikita deserved another assist on Doug Mohns’ goal at 2:14 of the third period.”
Official scorer Lamie Crovat promised, “I’m going to study a video-tape of the goal in the Madison Square Garden office on Monday and make a final determination.” Reay snapped back, wondering, “Why doesn’t he (Crovat) keep his eyes on the ice instead of the tape?” And it soon became clear that the NHL had no interest in what a video review might show.
Writing in The Star on Tuesday, April 4, the dean of Canadian sportswriters Milt Dunnell pointed out: “Conn Smythe used to say the customers had a right to know the result when they left the rink. That’s why he never would permit a protest of a Leaf hockey game. Contests were for the ice – not the committee room.”
“Clarence Campbell, the NHL president,” Dunnell said, “applied the same principle to Stan Mikita’s claim of a third assist in Sunday afternoon’s game at New York. What Campbell said, in effect, is that he doesn’t care what video tapes of the game prove.”
So, Mikita didn’t get his extra point, nor a new scoring record … and Dunnell clearly believed this was the right decision. “If [Lamie Crovat] even hinted he might change his decision in the event the film showed Mikita’s claim was justified, he exceeded his authority.”
And Dunnell wasn’t finished yet. “The video tape has no official status in the NHL, nor in football, baseball – any team sport you can mention.” He adds that when Stafford Smythe had a TV monitor installed near the penalty box at Maple Leaf Gardens “for the possible guidance of officials,” the referees got rid of it “by refusing to look at it.”
“The day referees, umpires, linesmen, and judges of play consent to be influenced by the eye in the sky, they will be as dead as the dodo bird,” Dunnell argued. “Hockey coaches being the mourners which, as a group, they are, would challenge every decision of the officials. Any contest that was completed in less than five hours would be a rarity.”
But, of course, times change…