NEW YORK — Those of us who remember watching Jack Nicholson Five-Star Nutties by Earl Weaver and Billy Martin feared those days might be over with the introduction of manager’s challenges and video replays in 2014.
Not so fast. Red Sox manager John Farrell got into it with first base umpire Bob Davidson Sunday night and was ejected for arguing a reversed call that went against the Sox. The disputed play provided the Yankees with the deciding run in a nationally televised 3-2 victory over the reeling (losers of seven of 10), last-place Red Sox.
Lip readers were pretty sure that Farrell told Davidson to do something anatomically impossible with the MLB replay system. So now it’s Game On for Replay Rage. Farrell becomes the Neil Armstrong of MLB review: he’s the first manager ejected for arguing a reversal. And the first to challenge the system.
“It’s extremely difficult to have any faith in the system being used,’’ said the Sox manager.
Uncle Bud Selig is not going to like that one. Managers have been fined for saying less. Coming from the universally respected manager of the defending world champs, it’s Throwdown Time for the replay debate.
The trouble started when Francisco Cervelli hit a grounder to third with men on first and third and one out in the fourth. The Yankees led, 2-1. The Sox turned what appeared to be a nifty 5-4-3, inning-ending double play and Cervelli flopped to the ground with a leg injury after he was called out on the close play.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi bolted from his dugout, got in the face of Davidson (notice how the manager and umpire align themselves so that the manager can stare into his own dugout to find out if his “review people” deem the play challengeable), and asked for a review. The play looked like a tie when it flashed on the giant scoreboard. Tie goes to the runner. This emboldened the Yankee Stadium crowd, but the replay did not seem particularly conclusive.
Sox players lingered on the infield grass while the play was reviewed. This might have been a mistake. Red Auerbach would have summoned his guys to the bench as a show of assertiveness. It’s always better to assume the call is going to go your way and the presence of the Boston Nine on the field indicated that the Sox knew the inning wasn’t over. When the call was overturned, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead and extending the inning, Farrell shot out of the dugout and was quickly ejected by Davidson. Under the rules, managers are not allowed to argue a reversed call.
“When this [replay system] was rolled out, we were told that when the ball enters the glove, the out is deemed complete,’’ said Farrell.
In Farrell’s view, the play was too close to have been reversed.
The mild-mannered manager was a fuse waiting to be lit in the wake of Saturday’s umpiring mistake when the Red Sox did not get the benefit of a review when Xander Bogaerts tagged out Dean Anna at second base. Network replays clearly indicated that Anna overran second and fell off the base while he was being tagged, but the MLB cameras apparently didn’t catch the Yankee gaffe. MLB later issued a statement admitting that the new video system did not capture the telling angle and that Anna should have been called out.
Before Sunday’s game, Farrell addressed the topic and spoke of challenging “the validity of the process being used.’’
Then the Sox came out on the wrong end again. And we hadn’t seen Farrell this mad since veins bulged from his neck when he flared on Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2010.
“On the heels of [Saturday], it’s hard to have any faith in the system, to be honest with you,’’ said Farrell. “I know arguing a challenge play is not allowed, but this is a tough pill to swallow . . . We knew there was going to be a learning curve, but on a play when it is not conclusive, like tonight . . . it’s unfortunate we were on the wrong side of it.’’
When Farrell was asked if he had any recommendations for tweaking what he considers a flawed system, his substantial jaw dropped, he paused, grunted, then said, “As much as they are trying to help the human element, it seems like they are adding to the human element at a different level.’’
There you go. Even with replay there is still a place in baseball for rhubarbs and “We Wuz Robbed.” All winter long everybody said, “The most important thing is getting it right.’’
John Farrell doesn’t think they’re getting it right. And he thinks it cost the Red Sox a ballgame Sunday night.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.