It seemed like the right time to call Jim Leyland. He's the go-to guy in this town for all baseball-related questions. No one knows or understands the game better. Why not call Leyland to ask about the new replay challenge system, which has angered a lot of people who are afraid of change or like the human element with umpires in baseball or think the game is slow and tedious enough without having the umpires often huddle to get a call right or all of the above?
"I'm tickled with it," Leyland said last week.
Leyland is a member of the committee that devised and recommended the challenge system and the use of additional replay. One of his jobs, now that he's retired as a manager, is to help oversee the process for commissioner Bud Selig. He will meet with managers and umpires on a regular basis.
"Replay already has saved games for some teams. I think that's great," Leyland said. "It's also saved the umpires some embarrassment. I think that's great, too. People say, 'The umpire missed a call.' I say, "Well, yeah, but it was a bang-bang play. It's not an easy job.'
"Everyone is on the same page with this thing, including the umpires. They want to get it right. They have to protect themselves on the field, but they're also human beings. They don't ever want to leave the park thinking they missed a call that cost a team a game or a guy a no-hitter."
Old-school baseball people will tell you they don't like the replay interruptions because they destroy the flow of a game. Well, Leyland is as old-school as they come. But he's not so stubborn to think the game can't be improved. It brings to mind something late, great NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle said. "If it ain't broke, fix it, anyway, and make it better."
"The umpires are good at what they do," Leyland said. "There were 2,400-some games last season and just 372 missed calls. That's pretty good. But if you can help the umpires do an even better job ... "
You do it, absolutely.
I've come to like the use of replay after years of being against it. There have been too many blown calls that were unnecessary. A few changed baseball history.
Maybe the most infamous call happened in the 1985 World Series. First-base umpire Don Denkinger mistakenly called Kansas City's Jorge Orta safe in the ninth inning of Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royals came back to win that game and also took Game 7. Denkinger received death threats for a long time.
Leyland was in the middle of another highly publicized blown call. He was managing the Detroit Tigers in 2010 when his pitcher, Armando Galarraga, got Cleveland's Jason Donald to bounce out for the 27th out in what should have been a perfect game. But first-base umpire Jim Joyce erroneously called Donald safe. "I don't want to be known as Jim Joyce, the guy that blew the perfect game. But I think that's inevitable," Joyce said months later. Why? "Because I'm Jim Joyce, the umpire who blew the perfect game."
Said Leyland now, "Nobody wants to have to live with that."
Leyland said he got a kick from Pirates fans who complained about the replay challenge system during the series with the Chicago Cubs last week. The Pirates benefitted from it in the opener when the Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio was ruled out at first base by replay on a pickoff play in the 10th inning after initially being called safe. The Pirates won, 1-0, in the bottom of the 10th.
"You can't moan about it, then cheer for it when the call goes your way," Leyland said. "You can't have it both ways."
The system will be reviewed after the season and Leyland promised "some tweaks." He mentioned that the review of whether the Pirates' Starling Marte was hit by a pitch in the Wednesday night game "took too long," nearly 5 minutes. The four other replay reviews during the series here ranged from 1:43 to 2:30. That's less time than a manager often will spend arguing a call. Leyland surely knows that. He was involved in many animated beefs with umpires.
Leyland said the system is not designed to get every call right, although it's easy to see baseball working toward that by making more and more calls reviewable. He said he doesn't see a day when a computer will call balls and strikes. I think I'm all for that after watching umpire Bob Davidson nearly ruin the Cubs-Pirates game Wednesday night with a strike zone that was ridiculously erratic.
"No, I'm not in favor of that," Leyland said. "I do think you need that part of the human element still in the game. You can't trust those boxes. The camera angles aren't always right."
I agree with Leyland that replay will grow on people. Next year, it will be just another part of the game. Next month, probably.
"People have to be patient with it," Leyland said. 'I really like it. All of a sudden, everything is fair and square. Not that it wasn't before because the human element was there for all the teams. But nobody wants a Galarraga to lose a perfect game or a Don Denkinger situation.
"Get the call right and the game moves on."
I thanked Leyland for his time. I'm really glad he answered his phone.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.