Baseball and the umpires

There’s been a lot of publicity in the past week concerning Major League Baseball umpires. A series of apparently blown calls have stirred up people who are calling for more accountability from the men in blue (who don’t usually wear too much blue any more).

I feel qualified to speak on the subject of sports officiating … because I used to do it. Most of my time was spent in basketball and football in high schools, but I did a little baseball, recreation ball way back when I was very young, and a fair amount of youth baseball.

I know, it’s not the same. But let me tell you, the pressure to get it right may be stronger in Little League than in the Majors, or at least it used to be.

If you call Johnny out, and mommy thinks he was safe, she might give you an earful when she runs into you at the grocery store the next day.

The one thing we didn’t have was replay. The biggest problem this week was a home run, or lack thereof, in Cleveland. The umps said it was a double, it didn’t clear the fence. By request, they went below the stands and reviewed the play on television, and came out and said it was a double.

Trouble is, the replay clearly showed it was a homer. Then the ump in his post-game meeting with a pool reporter wouldn’t let her record his statements … she just had to take notes. That is arrogance.

The league came out the next day and said the wrong call was made.

I watch a lot of Mets games, and last week an umpire behind the plate called four balls against one of the Mets. However, he thought it was only three. The player flied out on the next pitch in a key situation.

I usually taught my kids to count to four when they were about 2.

The next day, that same ump was on third base, a runner came sliding in, and David Wright applied the tag too late. But the runner clearly overslid the base while Wright kept the tag on him. Still, he was called safe. But the real crime here was that this ump refused to ask for help. He was more concerned with protecting his turf than getting it right. Again, that’s arrogance.

Now there’s a new controversy over a pitching change for the Angels, and this one hasn’t been resolved yet. There appear to be conflicting interpretations. Obviously, baseball has a lot of work to do.

A lot of people say that umps’ ratings should be public, so everyone can see how they’re doing. I’m not sure I agree. While the attitude of the officials has to get better, a lot of ratings in my day were based on whether a team won or lost, so they were really meaningless.

But the discipline of the Major League umpires should be public. When a player is suspended, everyone finds out about it. If an umpire is suspended (and I’m not sure they ever are), no one knows.

Another problem baseball has to deal with is the umpires’ union. It surprises me that the league bows down before the union leaders. A dozen or so years ago, a lot of umpires handed in letters of resignation to emphasize that they needed more money. To their shock, the league accepted their resignations and told them to take a hike. It took several years and rulings for some of them to get their jobs back. So the leagues should be willing to stand up to this organization. There are many more qualified umps waiting to move up than there were replacement officials in the National Football League last year.

Tonight I’ll sit back at home and watch the Mets play the Pirates. Hopefully, by the time the game ends, I won’t even know the umps were there. And that’s the way it should be.