We never hesitate to recommend taking in a minor league game. It's a fun time at a fair price, with an added attraction this year. You might see a certain bit of craziness that the major leagues have essentially legislated out of the sport.
We speak, of course, of the old-fashioned managerial arguments, the ones where jaws are clenched, dirt is kicked and caps are tossed off in disgust. Miss Manners would approve of the widespread use of instant replay this year, in which managers walk unthreateningly toward an umpire and say, "Excuse me, sir, kindly allow us to challenge your call."
We're losing a time-honored theatrical dimension of the sport. Do yourself a favor, and go find Phillip Wellman's classic rant on YouTube. In 2007, Wellman slammed his cap to the ground, covered home plate in dirt, yanked out a base and hurled it into the outfield, crawled behind the mound to grab the rosin bag as if it were a grenade and toss it at an umpire, motioned as if he were ejecting the umpire, and blew kisses to the fans as he exited through an opening in the outfield fence.
Wellman, then a minor league manager in the Atlanta Braves system, now manages the Angels' double-A Arkansas affiliate. The minor leagues cannot afford the millions for television cameras and replay rooms and command centers, and so managers and umpires there still go nose to nose.
"That's basically our only weapon," Wellman said. "It's pretty much futile anyway. In all the years I've managed, I've never gone out and had them say, 'You're right, Phillip. We'll change it.'
"But we're pretty much playing it old school."
That is the beauty of the replay system. Resistance is no longer futile. A bad call need not stand.
Of the 598 plays reviewed through Thursday, the call was overturned almost half the time — on 278 occasions, or 46.5%, according to Major League Baseball.
In preparation for replay expansion, league officials reviewed video from last year's games and determined one call every six games would be challenged, according to Joe Torre, the executive vice president who oversees replay operations. This season is halfway done, and the challenges are coming once every four games.
"They're challenging a lot more bang-bang plays than I thought they would," Torre said.
When a player insists the call is wrong, a manager wants to at least consider a challenge, lest he be perceived as not supporting his player. When a team's challenge has been used, an umpire wants to at least consider a manager's request for an umpire review, lest the umpire be perceived as intransigent.
And, because an unused team challenge does not roll over to the next game, there is no harm in trying an available challenge late in the game. On their last trip to San Diego, the Dodgers called one in the ninth inning, with a three-run lead.
"We had our challenge, so you might as well use it," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "There was a two-minute delay in the game. But it's a piece of strategy managers can use to help their ballclub, so why wouldn't you?"
Never have games taken so long to play, and the daily use of replay is a factor.
The average major league game covers 3 hours 3 minutes, according to MLB statistics through June 22. The record of 2 hours 59 minutes was set last year.
Never have there been fewer than three replay challenges on a given day this season. On June 14, there were a record 14 challenges, according to MLB statistics.
Torre said he is skeptical that the replay system is overly delaying the game. One of the selling points for replay, remember, was that those lengthy managerial theatrics would vanish.
The average replay review takes 1 minute 49 seconds, not counting the average of 40 seconds before a manager officially decides to challenge.
"That's not really a game-changer," Torre said.