Sunday, May 20, 2012

What to do about miserable umpiring?

Seems as if last week’s posting was prophetic in a way. As John pointed out to me the other day: what is it with these people named Brett? Last week, it was the classic video of George Brett’s response to being called out in the infamous Pine Tar Game. Not to be outdone, this week we had Brett Lawrie’s meltdown during a ninth-inning at bat where the umpire made not one, but two very bad strike calls against the Blue Jays’ star rookie. Here’s the coverage from

Okay, these talking heads are toeing the party line here. They work for Major League Baseball, so I would expect them to speak this way. Yes, Lawrie was completely out of line. Yes, he should not have fired his helmet, but it’s what’s not said that I find curious. Listen to it again. One of the heads say something about the two called strikes not being strikes, but then the whole thing is dropped to focus on the fact that Lawrie’s gonna get it from MLB. They’re making it sound as if he will be suspended for a long time. Completely forgotten from the ensuing discussion is the fact that MLB’s umpire made two horrendous calls. Lawrie had good reason to go ballistic (but firing his helmet like that was a stupid thing to do).

I can see where MLB is coming from. It has to be strictly hands-off of umpires, or the game could descent into anarchy. Case in point: some hare-brained knucklehead threw a glass of beer at Miller as he exited the field at the game’s end. But, as in my diatribe against a bad call in a Pirates game last fall, the real problem here begins and ends with the umpire and his agenda. The men in black should always strive to remain unseen. Miller didn’t do that here.

Bill Miller is not a good umpire. I could also show you a clip of an horrendous call on a play at third base last season in an A’s/Mariners game. First, here’s a computer analysis of of the Lawrie at bat. What you are seeing is where the balls were thrown from the umpire’s vantage point:

You’ll notice that pitch #5 if way off the plate. Miller called this a strike. Even with Molina behind the plate (with the reputation of being the best pitch framer in the business, Miller should have seen that this was not a strike. Lawrie, on the delayed call, starts down to first base, then Miller calls it a strike. Lawrie stalks back to the plate.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. The rookie has now shown up the veteran umpire. It’s the last pitch that is really disgusting. Miller calls Lawrie out on another ball and it’s my feeling that what you’re seeing is a bad umpire teaching the rook a lesson: don’t show me up, son, or this is what will happen. If Miller had more quickly called the fifth pitch a strike, he still would have been horribly wrong, but Lawrie, who assumed that it was clearly a ball and he had a walk, wouldn’t have started off for first base.

Now Miller had made a really bad call, compounded it by delaying it as well, but then he proceeds to blow another call, and I believe it was intentional. Miller should face some consequences. Will he? Possibly, but we’ll never know because MLB doesn’t talk about these things. The next night, Miller was at third base (Lawrie was still playing because he was appealing his 4-game suspension), and the rookie apologized to the umpire. What I would really like to know is if Miller apologized in return? He had to have seen replays by then, and if there was no vindictiveness on his part, he certainly should have acknowledged it to the rookie. My bet is that he didn’t.

Okay, now the flip side of coin. In yesterday’s Jays game against the Mets, a call was missed in the ninth inning on a throw to second by Bautista. It was a brilliant play and the Mets’ runner Baxter, trying to turn a single into a double and put his team into position to tie the game, got thrown out at second. The throw was amazing, the catch was amazing, but Escobar’s, the Jays’ shortstop, swipe tag clearly missed the sliding Met.The second base umpire was shielded on the play.

My team came out on top in this encounter, but I am still unhappy. Why? Because the Mets’ manager came out to argue the call and suggested that the umpire should ask for some help from the other umpires. This is sometimes done. The first base umpire would have clearly seen that the tag never touched the sliding Baxter. Brian Knight’s response was, “I can’t do that.”

Why the hell couldn’t he do that?

MLB really does have to do something about umpiring. Is it just me, or does it seem to be getting worse?

Some additional reading and viewing on the subject:

From the Toronto Star

From the Vancouver Sun

And from that A’s/Mariners game:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's getting pretty freakin ugly. To the point where it's getting harder to just write this off as some team's fans whining or whatever since so many fans are coming together on this issue.

Just watched a blown call ruin a game for my team (Phillies), during a game where the other manager (Mattingly) gets ejected for arguing another dubious call against the Dodgers.

Bad taste is in everyone's mouth now. The MLB just sits on their thumbs.