Most baseball fans endure more than a few moments during the season when they wish the umpires on the diamond would be forced to walk the plank. Well, not literally, of course, because walking the plank was a brutal form of homicide. But sometimes it’s nice to imagine baseball without the human errors that are inevitably part of the old game. Assuredly, Brewers fans could have done without the blown call at first base by umpire Tim Welke Tuesday night against the Pirates, wherein even to the naked eye it appeared the base runner was out. The Brewers should have been out of that sixth inning but instead the Pirates took advantage of their extra out by going up 8-7 on the Crew after Starling Marte’s three-run homer. Thankfully, the Brewers came back and won that game.
Despite maddening catastrophes from time to time, baseball would lose a lot of its variability without those mostly gentle souls calling outs and ‘non-outs’ and balls and strikes. The sound and feel and look of the game would change dramatically if baseball calls were governed by computers with camera eyes or androids processing countless streams of data. The Saint Paul Saints baseball club, of the modern American Association, is taking a different approach entirely. It’s bringing in more human error.
The Saints have been around for 20-some years and are due to open a new ballpark in the Lowertown area of downtown St. Paul, MN, in a couple years. For now, they play in a dilapidated but homey ballpark in the Midway area of St Paul. These Saints aren’t to be confused with the team that the Milwaukee Brewers and Minneapolis Millers battled in the early 20th century, of course. But these Saints specialize in a fun brand of amateur, independent baseball that is also a well-played and competitive level of ball. Sometimes, things get a little wacky.
In an exhibition game on May 11 versus the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, the Saints will abandon the use of umpires and will instead place a judge on the field and juries on the sidelines to aid in decisions. According to the Saints, ‘A judge in a robe will stand behind the pitcher’s mound calling [balls and strikes] while a jury of both teams’ ‘peers’ will act as the base umpires’. What the Saints apparently mean by ‘peers’ is 12 Little Leaguers on each baseline calling the shots on the respective bases. Majority rules and ties are settled by the robed field judge. Fans will have their input as well.
The Saints want people to realize just how important umpires are to the game of baseball by removing them for one exhibition game. This should be very interesting, and will probably devolve into a self-parody, but it will no doubt qualify as entertainment. As painful as it is to abide by one person’s sometimes-flawed interpretation of events or those of a small group of people, bringing in dozens of opinions and perceptions will seemingly raise the fever pitch exponentially. The fact that there is a lone judge who ultimately makes the call, however, is pretty similar to the common umpire command. A gavel pound will replace ‘Play Ball!’ to start the game.
The Saints are known for their wily promotions and stunts, and this ‘umpireless’ game will be no different. Playing in an unaffiliated league perhaps gives the Saints a little more freedom to do crazy stuff than you’d see with minor league clubs. For example, the Saints have asked fans to come out and watch a game in January in previous years, though the most recent incarnation was cancelled because the city of St. Paul dumped too much snow in the Midway Stadium parking lot, wiping out a place for tailgating and other activities for Iceball attendees. I think this concept of a game with no umpires will serve as a reminder that umpires are an important part of the game. Someone, or something, needs to make the calls for the game. Certainly, a four- or five-person umpire crew is preferable to a 25-person one. The more cooks in the kitchen, the more muddled the recipe.
Now, let’s go beat those stinkin’ Cardinals. Go Brewers!!
(Image: Kevin Millar and Saints co-owner Bill Murray. From minnpost.com)