When Major League Baseball chose to implement expanded instant replay for the 2014 season, the game changed for the better. Despite hiccups in the system or uncertainty around new, untested rules, the sport is now better equipped to give fans a fair outcome on every single call.
Of course, change and progress doesn't come without consequence. With expanded instant replay and the ability for managers to challenge close calls or blatantly obvious mistakes by umpires, there's little need for manager-umpire arguments—especially the heated, highlight-worthy debates that became so memorable.
Through April 24, only three managers—Boston's John Farrell, Texas' Ron Washington and Cubs skipper Rick Renteria—were ejected from games. Of those three, both Farrell and Washington were tossed when arguing the result of instant replay decisions, per Doug Miller of MLB.com.
Renteria and Yankees manager Joe Girardi have been removed from games this season for arguing one of the only areas of the game not subject to instant replay: balls and strikes. Despite how ridiculous and fruitless the idea of arguing over an unchangeable call now seems, that was the reality of most on-field rifts for years.
What was once a regular occurrence is becoming a thing of the past. According to Cork Gaines of Business Insider—using data through the first four weeks of the season—managerial ejections were on pace to drop 46.0 percent from last year.
Baseball is evolving without the manager ejection. Iconic images and clips like Lou Piniella kicking dirt, Lloyd McClendon literally stealing second base and Bobby Valentine re-emerging in the dugout after an ejection—in full disguise—will soon be archaic for the next generation of baseball fans.
Unsurprisingly, current managers—all of which grew up, played, coached and managed during an era of high-octane arguments and ejections—are noticing the difference and change in demeanor with umpires during the game, per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
"It's just turning into a lovefest," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's almost like you can't get upset anymore."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire—owner of 68 ejections since 2002, per Scott Lindholm's research at Beyond the Box Score—told Smith that the fun has been taken out of leaving the dugout to contest a call on the field.
"It's kind of weird," Gardenhire said. "You're used to coming out of the dugout all fired up. Now you're waiting for someone to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It's really not that much fun. It's kind of boring."
When Girardi was rung up by umpire Laz Diaz during a May 5 game in Los Angeles, the 2014 season had its first blast from the past. From Girardi's obvious anger to Diaz's unprofessional, yet comical, bravado as he wagged a finger toward Yankee players questioning his calls, the episode brought back memories of how baseball once regularly looked.
Beyond the amusing and entertaining aspects of manager-umpire dustups, an interesting and important consequence could soon become part of the game. By staying in the dugout, managers can potentially have more impact on a game and season.
Of course, it's not hard to imagine relaying decisions, signs or thoughts from below the dugout, but there's something to be said for having a manager in the dugout for all nine innings of every game throughout the season. With rule changes and fewer ejections, that will likely be the case for a handful—or more—of managers throughout the season.
With pitch counts, defensive shifts and parity in vogue, the job of a manager is becoming more vital to the success or failure of each team. Although skippers can't truly influence the outcome of many games, the sport is becoming more competitive and analytical on a yearly basis.
If franchises are picking the brightest minds to navigate a 25-man roster through a six-month grind, the more time spent in the dugout, the better.
Logic aside, there's something missing from the game. Unlike on-ice fights in the NHL, the quick, fan-friendly distraction of baseball's manager-umpire argument and impending ejection was a welcomed aspect to watching or attending a game. Due to the emotion of the moment, managers would often argue for the sake of firing up their respective teams.
The game will adjust, and fans will adapt, but instant replay's unintended consequence is clear throughout the first seven weeks of the season: Manager ejections are a thing of the past.