Tuesday, August 4, 2009

MLB's REAL Problem

Steroids? Nope.
Cheaters? Nope.
Gambling? Nope again.

It's the umpires that exist within the Major League Baseball structure. It's not their existence, per se, but what they do in their existence. I am talking about the general decline in the quality of calling the game. The rule of thumb used to be (and still may be) that umpires are supposed to be 'invisible'. They call the game, do not cause a ruckus, and refrain from unprofessional behavior.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. MLB does not want replay for any calls, but was pretty much forced into using replay for home run calls. Now, the case for widespread replay and an NFL-style challenge system is being made, wittingly or not, by screwing up more calls than I thought possible. Recently, there were the plays where Michael Cuddyer (see the above photo - from the AP) and Edwin Encarnacion were both called out at the plate when both were clearly safe, and would have been called safe if the plate umpire had been in the proper position to call it.

This brings me to my main accusation - umpires are lazy and do not get themselves into position to make the calls. They rely on certain time-worn assumptions, such as seeing and listening for the ball and seeing where the ball is relative to the runner. How many times have you seen a runner get thrown out at 2nd, 3rd, or home on the basis that the ball beat the runner rather than on the basis of the defensive player actually a) having possession of the ball and b) tagging the runner before the runner is at the base in question. The answer is, if you have watched as much baseball as I have, too many times.

The umpires then have the gall to get upset when managers, coaches, and players throw a big fit on a blown play. Which brings me to my secondary accusation - umpires inserting themselves and trying to make themselves part of the game. My advice = call the damn game, toss who you need to toss without making yourselves look like prima donnas in the process. I, and no one else, really give a damn about an ump's feelings. Look, if a manager uses the 'magic words' and insults the umpire's mother or his integrity, toss him and be done with it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching J.C. Romero pitch for the Phillies and he was getting squeezed on strike calls and was voicing his frustration. For whatever reason, the plate umpire starting take a few steps out to the mound. I couldn't believe it. Let the pitcher bitch, and if he needs to be tossed, do it, but for the love of God, we already have enough drama queens in baseball without the supposed officiating joining in.

Umpires need to stay in the backseat where they belong, and they need to work at getting the calls right. I am not a fan of replay in baseball, but the current state of umpiring makes it harder and harder for people like me to say 'no' to a wide-spread replay system in Major League Baseball.

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