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Take me out to the 'old' ballgame

Umpires review a disputed call in a Mets

Umpires review a disputed call in a Mets game against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix on April 15, 2014. Have they begun to phase themselves out? Credit: Getty Images / Christian Petersen

As if there weren't enough doubts about the long-range prospects for civilization -- greed, strife, Twitter -- Major League Baseball has introduced instant replay.

You don't have to be a fan to see the danger. Umps overruled by TV this year, the Yankees field a team of pinstriped robots, next. The Mets are apt to play like the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" anyway, so for once, maybe they have a jump on the future.

Technology is here to stay, and, listen, I like my microwave oven and radio-controlled car locks as much as the next guy, but baseball is special. Couldn't we please, for once, leave well enough alone?

Until now, umpires were "assisted" by replay only on home run calls. Now a manager can trot out and politely ask officials -- no need for shouting -- to review the latest force at second base or bang-bang play at first. The rules are complicated but the bottom line is unavoidable: human beings are being phased out.

And -- please -- don't tell me replay started in professional football years ago and the world somehow survived. Any sport that involves large men giving each other concussions and broken legs does not deserve serious consideration, the way I look at it. Baseball, on the other hand, is subtle, generally not lethal -- and the national pastime. Some things are sacred.

It is useless complaining, though, because once the big shots get hold of an idea like this there is no stopping them. Oh, the thinking goes, fans want absolute precision in a game meant to embrace failure as much as success -- even the best batters flop two out of three times -- then let's give it to them. A marketing trick, that's all.

One day we will all sit around -- here or in the great beyond -- and recall when young fellows in funny uniforms played a game with a stick, a ball and leather gloves and where umpires had the last word, right or wrong. Mistakes were as much a part of the enterprise as they are of life. Beautiful. Eternal. Kaput.

By then, baseball will be entirely computerized and enjoyed via wireless goggles. Everything will be nice and sanitized -- no one spilling beer in your lap at the stadium or charging $6.50 for hot dogs -- and about as much fun as being dragged to your grandkid's spring recital. I can hardly wait.

This is the part where old people start lamenting that things aren't as they used to be -- you know, back in the good old days when there was no cure for malaria and we were ducking under our desks for fear of an A-bomb -- so I'll try to do myself no additional damage.

But, let's be honest, it's not so easy giving up the used-to-be. Take my heroic effort to accept one of life's terrible setbacks: Departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles.

Progress has been slow since the Boys of Summer sneaked away after the 1957 season, but I am nearly reconciled to the idea that Ebbets Field is gone and the Dodgers evidently intend to remain in sunny Southern California (they can keep it). With only occasional help from a therapist, I am nearing recovery.

Mention of certain names -- Robinson, Campanella, Snider, Hodges, Erskine -- sometimes threatens relapse, but, in general, I'm good. Occasionally, when I am least expecting, a photo of Pee Wee Reese or Carl Furillo will appear on television or in the paper, or some yuppie in Brooklyn will be wearing a retro Dodgers baseball cap as a style statement, and I have to sit down and breathe into a paper bag. No matter. Family and friends say I am getting stronger.

Little is gained by celebrating yesteryear to excess, we agree. All my memories of Ebbets aren't so great, anyway. Once my father and I went to a game -- could it have been the Cardinals? Pirates? -- and on the way out, Dad slipped on an empty Lucky Strike pack and fell on his knee.

I remember the pain flooding his face and how slowly he got up. We made it to the subway for the trip back to Bay Ridge, but the knee never got better. Before long, Dad stopped delivering Bond Bread to delis and markets in Park Slope and took some low-level insurance company job requiring suit and tie. The pay wasn't as good. We felt it. My mother went to work.

So, with all the grand memories of the Dodgers, there is that other recollection -- Dad pale, and rubbing his ruined knee on a ramp at Ebbets, life about to change -- that remains as vivid as anything else. A lesson, don't you think? Don't bet on perfection.

If only the baseball bigwigs would keep that in mind. Second-guessing the umps by reviewing how a play "really" happened? Why? What is achieved, except maybe a red face for the errant official? Suddenly, we want to make the poor guy pay for merely being human? To me, just doesn't make sense.

A pal of mine is writing a baseball novel that includes the Dodgers, and I told him about a favorite high school memory -- coming home from Brooklyn Tech on the day in 1955 our guys finally beat the Yanks and won a World Series.

I was heading to the BMT on DeKalb Avenue. Nearby was a bar called the Dodgers Café, and out of the joint marched the jubilant faithful, men and women soon dancing in the street.

At last, the glorious and beloved Bums -- working-class heroes of every blue-collar Brooklyn kid -- had triumphed over the imperial lords of the Bronx. Joy divine, believe me. Two years later, the team had shoved off for the Coast. Nothing is forever, as if we didn't know.

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