Yesterday, Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement after a two-decade career. He’ll be remembered for a lot of things–his sweet lefty swing, his backwards hat, his crash-into-the-wall catches–but probably most of all as the only great home run hitter of his era whose name was never tainted by steroid allegations. That makes his exit from the game bittersweet; bitter in that a great player is hanging them up, sweet in that we can actually celebrate his accomplishments without shame or caveats or the use of an asterisk.
Another thing happened in baseball this week that was pretty much all bitter: an umpire, Jim Joyce, robbed a pitcher, Armando Galarraga, of a perfect game, by blowing a call on what would have been the final out. Replays showed it really wasn’t even close, which brings up an interesting question: why are we still asking umpires to make these calls when we’ve got instant (key word) replays?
The answer you’ll get from most self-proclaimed purists (and there is no other kind) is that flesh-and-blood umpires with their ever-shifting strike zones and individual interpretations of the balk rule are part of the fabric of the game. To which I say: hogwash. Great players like Ken Griffey Jr. are part of the fabric of the game. Amazing moments like Armando Galarraga’s (near) perfect game are part of the fabric of the game. The portly dudes in tiny hats who get spit shot up their nose by angry managers are something we tolerate, like a drunk relative or a squeaky door hinge. Make them go away, replace them with machines that do their job better and faster, and no one would shed a tear, at least not a REAL tear.