The first test of baseball's new replay system came early in spring training when Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons ran out of the dugout to question a call by first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth.
"I'm not too sure that you're not right here," Gibbons told Culbreth, "but since we haven't done it before, let's go take a look."
"OK," Culbreth replied. "That's what it's there for."
The play was reviewed. Culbreth's call stuck. And that was that.
No fuss. No muss.
While such diplomacy gives hope for a kinder world -- at last, peace in the American League East! -- it might further endanger a baseball tradition. Manager meltdowns, those sideshows that evoke memories of Billy Martin kicking dirt, Lou Piniella hurling bases and Earl Weaver making ears burn, could be a thing of the past.
Managers can just ask for replay. That's what it's there for.
It's enough to make even the umpires a little nostalgic.
"Aww, I hate it," said Doug Harvey, a Hall of Fame umpire who worked in National League from 1962-92. "Lots of times my partners would be in an argument with a manager, just going nose to nose, and I'd look up in the stands and people would be frothing at the mouth.
"That's part of the game. That's getting fans into it. Now you're taking that away and saying, 'OK, we'll check with the replay.' Bull! Bull! That's not baseball."
Not to worry, according to newly minted Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, who said that managers will still get plenty of chances to be enraged. They'll just have to be quicker about it. "You can go out there and still go crazy, but at some point, an umpire is going to say, 'Are you going to challenge it or not?'" he said.
The former A's manager has emerged as a key voice in baseball's expanded plan for 2014. La Russa spent spring training spreading the word about the system, explaining the protocol, dispelling myths and hailing the technology that will save baseball from that "dramatic miss that embarrasses us all."
Baseball is the last of the four major sports to use a form of replay to correct calls. It dipped its toe into the replay waters starting in 2008, when Commissioner Bud Selig said replays could be used on home run calls to determine if the ball was fair or foul, whether the ball cleared the fence and whether a fan had interfered with it.
The expanded system, which will go into effect this season, will give managers the power to trigger reviews, by providing them with one challenge per game, along with a second potential challenge if their first is upheld. From the seventh inning on, umpires can initiate a challenge on their own.
In addition to home run calls, replay now is available for force plays, tag plays, fair or foul calls (in the outfield only) and fan interference.
With this plan, La Russa said, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga would have thrown a perfect game (instead of being undone by umpire Jim Joyce), the St. Louis Cardinals might have won the 1985 World Series (Don Denkinger's similarly "kicked call" at first) and Baltimore Orioles fans would never have heard of a young New York Yankees fan named Jeffrey Maier.
"In the spirit of competition, teams shouldn't be rewarded for something they didn't deserve," said La Russa, now a special consultant to Major League Baseball and the commissioner's office. "The whole point is protecting these impactful plays."
On the phone line, La Russa's voice quickens with every chance to clarify the rules and allay fears. To those who worry it will disrupt the game flow, he says that an efficient review crew in New York will often have an answer within a minute. To those who fret over denying the game its human element, he says that "impactful" misses are rare -- maybe one or two in a week.
And to those who worry about the lost art of managerial meltdowns, La Russa is willing to flash the form that got him ejected 87 times, fifth-most all-time: He berates the reporter for a blown call, unleashing a stream of creative expletives heavy on references to the digestive process of a horse.
Then there was a pause.
"How long did that take? Forty seconds?" La Russa said. "That's enough time for the (team's) video guy to look at the play and know whether the umpire kicked the call. So while the manager is out there arguing, he can look over his shoulder into the dugout and get the signal -- is this worth a challenge or not?"
La Russa understands that this will change the manager-umpire dynamic, but for the better. In the new world, those nose-to-nose exchanges will have to have a point.
"Some of those (old) arguments would go on for three, four, five minutes, and you were never going to get it changed," he said. "So what the hell were you doing it for?"
Gil Imber, an expert on umpire-manager relations, predicts that overall ejections will be down in 2014, but only by about 25 to 35 percent. Imber is the owner and commissioner of the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League, which tracks and analyzes umpire behavior.
Imber reported that of the 180 total ejections last season, 83 were for arguing balls and strikes, 11 were for fighting, 14 were for pitchers intentionally throwing at a batter, eight for issues of interference and obstruction, three for disputing issued warnings, two from balks, one from an unacknowledged timeout request and eight for unclassified unsporting actions. "In other words," Imber wrote, "72 percent of the ejections concerned issues, plays or calls that will not be reviewable under the expanded instant replay system."
His conclusion: The ejection isn't going away any time soon. That's consolation to Harvey, who took pride in knowing how to take charge on the diamond, as the not-so-subtle title of his new book makes clear. "They Called Me God: The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived" (Gallery Books) will be released Tuesday.
Managers, of course, view their half of the argument as an art, too. When Martin went berserk with his dirt-kicking routine, for example, players knew their manager was actually digging below the surface.
"The reason why he did it was the intimidation factor," recalled Shooty Babitt, an infielder who played for Martin with the 1981 Oakland A's. "These guys (like Martin and Weaver) weren't out there to get that specific play changed. It was more about hoping that the next play would get called in his favor."
With the test of wills, the dust-ups can be amusing. "Sportsmanship and easygoing methods are all right," legendary manager John McGraw once said, "but it's the prospect of a hot fight that brings out the crowds." (McGraw's record of 118 career ejections stood until Bobby Cox pushed the mark to 161.)
The colorful confrontations are so entrancing that longtime umpire Ron Luciano enjoyed a second career as a bestselling author. His behind-the-mask tales in "The Umpire Strikes Back" proved so popular that he followed up with four more books.
Luciano, who died of an apparent suicide in 1995, is most remembered for his run-ins with Weaver. He once tossed the Orioles manager before the first pitch of the game.
"Ronnie called it a 'pre-emptive strike,'" David Fisher, who served as Luciano's co-author, recalled with a laugh. "It was at home plate before the second game of a doubleheader. There had been a dispute between the two of them in the first game, and Weaver brought it up again. So Ronnie just said, 'I don't want to listen to you again' and threw him out."
ï»¿In a phone interview, Ken Kaiser, an umpire for 23 seasons starting in 1977, recalled his own home-plate confrontation with Weaver (94 career ejections). The manager came out to challenge the umpire and said, "I'd like to punch you." Never mind that Weaver was 5-foot-7, 180 pounds. Kaiser, who was 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, just smiled and said: "Where are you going to punch me? The knee?"
One of Fisher's favorite umpire lines comes not from Luciano but from Dick Stello, who delivered a beauty in the Texas League after manager Alex Grammas disputed a "fair" call down the left-field line. Stello said he saw a puff of chalk come up from the foul line; Grammas said there was no way Stello could have seen such a thing from 300 feet away. "You know what, Alex," the umpire replied. "On a clear day, I can see the sun -- and that sucker's 93 million miles away."
Grammas muttered all the way back to the dugout.
Now, cameras will be trained on that foul line. So when a manager comes out to argue, the discussion won't last long. The one-liners will be replaced by a trip to the replay booth.
And that's fine with Steve Palermo, who worked as an American League umpire from 1977 to 1991.
"It remains to be seen how managers and players will react to the new system, but hopefully it will be with cooler heads," Palermo, now an umpire supervisor, wrote in an email. "Expanded replay should keep more players and managers in the game, which is a good thing. Fewer ejections would be a good side effect of instant replay.
"Those prolonged, animated arguments from managers might have been good for the highlight reels, but if eliminating them results in more correct calls, then all the better."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Daniel Brown at Twitter.com/mercbrownie.