Naked Gun Umpires in Real Baseball

After Review, We’re Still Wrong

Remember the baseball game scene in the original Naked Gun movie?  The one where Frank Drebin pretended to be an umpire so that he could figure out who was trying to kill the Queen?  Remember how ridiculously (and hilariously) bad some of his calls were?  Well, hasn’t it felt like Frank Drebin has actually been hired as a real Major League umpire over the past couple days?

It’s been a rough week for umpires.  First, you had the Indians-A’s game on Wednesday night.  Oakland’s game-tying homer in the top of the ninth was called a double on the field, but they went to the replay to make sure.  The replay showed (pretty clearly) that the ball was well over the yellow line on the top of the wall that indicates a home run.  It hit a freakin’ railing that was four or five feet above the line.  Clear as day to anybody with two eyes.  Except, apparently, the four guys whose job it was to get the call right.  They told the runner to stay at second.  What?

Fast forward to last night.  The Angles were playing the Astros in Houston.  Anaheim sent up a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh, and Houston countered by bringing in a lefty.  Mike Scioscia didn’t want the lefty-lefty matchup, so he sent up another pinch hitter, who was right-handed.  To which Houston manager Bo Porter countered by bringing in a right-hander…while the other guy was still warming up.  The rules are pretty clear about pitching changes.  Once you make a change, the new pitcher has to stay in for at least one hitter or until an out is made (via pickoff, caught stealing, whatever).  Scioscia came out and argued this point.  Bo Porter obviously didn’t know the rule.  And apparently the umpires didn’t either.  Fortunately, it didn’t cost the Angels the game.  Same can’t be said for the A’s, though.

Joe Torre came out and said what we all knew in each case.  The umps effed up.  Wow, that’s reassuring.  I’m sure it really makes the A’s feel better to know that Major League Baseball acknowledged they got screwed out of a home run.  At least with the Angels-Astros game, they took the step of suspending Fielden Cublreth two games.  But why not the whole crew?  They should all know the rules.  As such, the entire crew should’ve been suspended.  Not just the crew chief.

But the whole pitching change thing, as bad as it was, doesn’t bother me as much as what happened in the Oakland-Cleveland game.  Umpires are human.  They’re going to get calls wrong.  That’s the reason they have replay.  You can look at the video to correct those human errors.  They’re even talking about expanding it to cover those bang-bang plays that are easy to get wrong.  Things like trap or catch and fair or foul.  Nobody likes being proven wrong, but I’d rather that than my mistake affecting the outcome of a game.

That’s why I still simply cannot understand what happened in the Oakland-Cleveland game.  The ball hit the railing above the wall.  It was clear as day.  The A’s knew it.  The Indians knew it.  Everybody in the stadium knew it.  Everybody who saw the replay knew it.  So what exactly were the umpires looking at in the replay room?  They got the call wrong.  It happens.  But to compound the problem by coming out after looking at the replay and getting it wrong again?  Inexcusable.

As Mark Mulder said on Baseball Tonight following that debacle, “If you’re going to use replay and still not get it right, what’s the point in having replay at all?”  I totally agree.  And the excuse the umpires used afterwards was that there wasn’t “inconclusive” evidence to overturn the call.  Huh?  How much more inconclusive can you get?  If a ball hitting a railing five feet above the fence isn’t inconclusive evidence of a home run, what is?  (On Baseball Tonight last night, they spot-shadowed every home run ball in relation to the fence in the Indians-A’s game.  It was hilarious.)

The other real problem is the lack of accountability.  Major League managers and players are required to do postgame media sessions.  But when an umpire’s bad call has a bearing on the outcome of the game, nothing.  Maybe a one-sentence written statement, but that’s about it.  Why does that have to be?  Take the kid gloves off.  If managers and players have to talk to the media, umpires should have to as well.  Let the reporters ask their questions.  Don’t hide behind prepared statements.  You’re not protecting them.  And, this just in, they’re grown men.  They don’t need protection.  Let them be held accountable.

One of the umpires I respect the most is Jim Joyce.  Remember when Joyce blew a call at first base, calling a runner safe who was clearly out, costing the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga a perfect game?  After seeing the video, Joyce spoke to the media, acknowledged he made a bad call, and admitted how badly he felt that he was the reason Galarraga didn’t throw a perfect game.  Joyce went so far as apologizing to Galarraga.  Both men handled the entire situation with such grace and class.  It was truly exceptional.

If Jim Joyce can blow a call, but take the high road and actually talk about it, all the while handling the criticism he received like a man, why can’t others?  Why is that the exception instead of the rule?  Umpires aren’t perfect.  They’re going to make mistakes.  There’s no reason for this “Holier than Thou” tactic when it comes to controversial calls.  Keeping the umpires away from the media doesn’t help these situations at all.  In fact, it only makes them worse.


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