Baseball would be more enjoyable if umpires and managers had hot mics every game, but …

Baseball would be more enjoyable if umpires and managers had hot mics every game, but …

If you haven’t seen the viral video of former Mets manager Terry Collins arguing with umpire Tom Hallion, it might be too late. Major League Baseball is actively working to prevent you from seeing it, even though it’s immensely entertaining, which means people trying to share the link will have to hide it in a period at the end of a paragraph.

But they can’t scrub a partial transcript, which is probably all you’ll need to get the gist. The recap:

  • Chase Utley broke Ruben Tejada’s leg in the 2015 NLDS
  • In retaliation, Noah Syndergaard threw behind Utley’s back in a regular-season 2016 game
  • Home plate umpire Adam Hamari ejected Syndergaard without a warning
  • Terry Collins was mad
  • Terry Collins said naughty words
  • Oh, dear, Terry Collins, that’s not a gentlemanly thing to say
  • Goodness, Terry, please
  • How could you

It was more than the naughty words, though. It was a diplomatic push and pull between umpire and manager, context added to the silent screaming that we’ve all seen a hundred times. Instead of the principles calling each other horrible, debasing names, it was something of a litigation. Crew chief Tom Hallion stood his ground and made forceful points. You empathized with his position, which was an umpire who wanted to be a company man but also understood the unwritten rules that Collins wanted to enforce. He explained the umpires’ position with a vulgar grace, taking the heat on behalf of his crew. There was an art to how Hallion defused the situation.

It wasn’t just a peek behind the curtain, but a full backstage pass to watch the Wizard of Oz pull the levers and pulleys in real time. It spread around the internet because it filled an essential gap in our knowledge of what actually happens during a baseball game. Everyone loved it. There was no judgment, no shock and surprise. It was kind of what we expected, but the nuances were better than anything we could have imagined.

For example, we now know that Hallion likes to use the word “jackpot” unironically like he’s Cormac McCarthy, and that is incredibly cool.

The video is actively being hunted down by Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s trained assassins, so search for it while you can. Maybe they’ll turn their back and it will be uploaded again. Cross your fingers.

For once, though, we’re not here to lambast the MLBAM folks who follow the prime directive of “make sure nobody shares baseball videos.” There are good reasons why this particular video wasn’t long for this world:

This makes a world of sense, and his full answer is worth reading. Umpires aren’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They don’t get going-away ceremonies in front of 50,000 people when they retire. There aren’t a lot of umpire bobbleheads. Their job is to be perfect, and when they fail at that because it’s an impossible expectation, they get yelled at. Over and over again.

There is nothing in the idea of hot mics and full transparency for umpires.

The best-case scenario might be something like fans forming a consensus opinion of, “Hey, (umpire) is kind of reasonable and cool in arguments” that would be immediately forgotten every time he blew a call.

The worst-case scenario — or, heck, just an everyday scenario — is the umpires would say something that would bring more heat down upon them. They don’t need that. Double their salaries, and they probably still wouldn’t want it. The twisting and parsing of every single thing they said to a manager after a blown call … it makes my skin itch to think about it. There’s a reason this stuff was collectively bargained. It’s a good reason, and I don’t think we appreciate just how hard an umpire’s job is, nor do we appreciate how much worse it would be if we could hear every thought an umpire speaks on the field.

Like hell am I giving you access to all of my conversations on Slack, for example.

That’s the final word, then. It doesn’t make sense for umpires to add more to their already oppressive burden. The beautiful dream of having unfettered access to umpires and managers yelling curse words at each other is not to be.

And it is a beautiful dream. Hearing all of the conversations on a baseball field would be glorious, just glorious, and it would certainly change our enjoyment of the game. What the Collins video showed us was that fly-on-the-wall baseball is an absolute dream. To hear pitchers and catchers talk about whatever is behind the gloves covering their lips. To empathize with the umpires who have to explain the technicalities that a spittle-flecked manager doesn’t want to hear. To understand the game better. It would take an enjoyable product and make it much better.

But if you want the umpires on board, you’ll have to pay them a lot more. It would make a tough job immeasurably harder, and there has to be something in it for them.

In a perfect scenario, the umpires get huge raises and we get our behind-the-scenes majesty. Then what? The observer effect. Every umpire and manager would be aware of the hot mics. Every one of them would have a burning sensation in the back of their heads as they ran out to argue, remembering that everything they said could become a viral video. There would be kayfabe instead of actual conflict. We would still be entertained, but it wouldn’t be as pure as this Collins video.

I would pay $500 a year for access to live mics on the field. I’m an active parishioner of the Church of Vin Scully, and yet my platonic idea of watching a baseball game is to hear the sounds and the cracks and the snaps and the grunts and the yelling and the yelling and the yelling and the yelling. To be omnipotent like this … it’s the baseball fan’s dream.

That’s all it is, though. A dream. It doesn’t work in theory. It doesn’t work in practice. There’s no way to make it work.

All we can do is appreciate the marvelous videos that somehow make their way to us. They’re beautiful, right? I could watch Tom Hallion scream about jackpots all day. It’s all we’ll get, so let’s make sure we can savor it properly.

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