Also posted on IndySportsLegends.com.
Major League Baseball had a rough week, and you can thank a pair of umpiring crews for that.
By now, you know the stories. A’s lose a chance to tie a game against Cleveland when a home run is called a double, despite firm instant-replay evidence, and lose. Angels victimized by a “misapplication” of a rule on pitching changes against Houston but still win.
Sports leagues in America have typically held their officiating crews away from formal media scrutiny, but that has to change. Has to. In baseball, we’re starting to see more and more suspensions and fines for umpiring gone awry. That’s just dandy. But they should also face the media whenever there is a controversial play — or an out-and-out screw-up, “misapplication,” whatever you call it.
Sitting an umpire down with a pool reporter and then allowing said umpire to believe he can dictate the rules for how an interview will be disseminated, as Angel Hernandez allegedly did in Cleveland, is absolutely stupid.
I umpired youth baseball one summer. Thankfully, I never had a controversial call come my way or come nose-to-nose with somebody because of a decision I made. I did have a lot of groans about calls behind the plate (apparently my strike zone was tight for 12-year-olds to hit consistently) and a few boos on bang-bang plays at first. If I wasn’t called out on severe weather coverage, I knew people would find me to complain if they wanted…but I only had one coach come by to question a decision (balls and strikes) and to suggest I open up my zone a bit.
So I was lucky in that regard. And despite the tone of this column, that experience made me realize in some small way just how hard it is to be an official. It’s hard to get everything right, and if you don’t, or if you’re not sure if you did, it will eat at you if you care.
If you care. That’s what has a lot of people screaming at umpires as much as the messed-up calls from the past few days.
Besides the immediate issue of the calls themselves, MLB has another problem on its hands because of the increasingly combative nature — and decreasing job effectiveness — of umpires like Hernandez, Tom Hallion, John Hirschbeck, C.B. Bucknor and others. Makes for great theater…at the expense of baseball quality. And if Peter Gammons is right that Hernandez made his ruling to thumb his nose at the replay process…
Players and coaches have to own up to their mistakes or decisions when things don’t go as planned. Always have, always will. Umpires should, too.