Watching many major league baseball games growing up in the Washington area throughout the 1960s, few umpires made any impression.
Keep in mind, whether you watched a game in person or on TV, you saw it in real time back then. You saw every play once as it happened. The advent of some form of video replay wasn't commonplace until the late 1960s, and then almost exclusively in football. There was little in the way of controversial calls by the umpires since there was really no way to prove a mistake had been made unless the game had been filmed, and even then you had to wait until the film was processed.
It's a far different story these days. Many umpires have chosen to become personalities in their own right -- and not always in a good way. We've seen umpires bait players and managers who disagree with their decisions, even if the disagreement is as benign as a dirty look.
Baseball has only recently started using instant replay to determine boundary calls, such as whether a batted ball is truly a home run, fair or foul. When a replay is necessary, the umpiring crew actually leaves the field and goes under the stands to view the play in question on a special console. The video is fed to the monitor from the MLB offices in New York City, and the whole process takes a few minutes.
The umpires union has resisted any further use of replay, for fear it will eventually lead to the loss of jobs. Yet, there's an easy fix to the problem that will actually increase employment among the arbiters of the game.
Virtually every major league game is televised these days and requires the presence of a TV truck and mobile control room, where the production takes place. There's a bank of monitors inside the truck that show every camera angle. There's certainly enough room for a fifth member of an umpiring crew to sit and observe the action.
Whether it's a boundary call, or simply whether or not someone made a tag or a runner beat a throw, the crew chief on the field -- or one of the opposing managers, using a flag or beanbag of some kind -- could signal a play to be reviewed. The replay umpire in the truck could then instantaneously see the play again from multiple angles and render the final word. I can't imagine, given the speed with which plays are seen again on TV, that it would take longer than a minute -- perhaps less time -- to get it right. No need for the umpiring crew to leave the field.
One bad call can change the course of baseball history -- just ask Armando Galarraga. There's no reason to doubt any umpire's integrity, but if getting it right is a priority there's a solution that should keep both sides happy.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.