Umpire School Receives Baseball's Death Penalty for Racist Party Joke

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Umpire School Receives Baseball's Death Penalty for Racist Party Joke
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Former MLB umpire Jim Evans' Academy for Professional Umpiring has been given baseball officiating's death penalty by Minor League Baseball.

When Jim Evans opened his Academy for Professional Umpiring in 1989, the 28-year MLB veteran revitalized the baseball officiating academy experience with extensive hands-on classroom and on-field opportunities for the duration of the five-week professional course that runs from early January to February each year.

For the 22 years that followed, the Evans Academy has been one of an elite few (in 2011, there were only two) schools authorized by Minor League Baseball (MiLB) to send top umpire student graduates to MiLB's Professional Baseball Umpire Corp (PBUC) for evaluation and potential placement in the minor leagues.

Ever since, all major-league umpires are alumni of one of the few professional umpire schools, having passed through PBUC's evaluation into the minor leagues, rising from Rookie Ball and the various levels of Single-A, to Double-A, Triple-A and, finally, the majors.

Simply put, many MLB umpires have graduated from Evans' school, which has for over 20 years been a successful and personally rewarding business venture for the retired MLB umpire.

However, by the time the 2012 course had concluded, MiLB and subsidiary PBUC were investigating the Evans Academy for deplorable conduct alleged to have occurred during an academy-sponsored bowling party. 

During that event, one team of academy employees, not including Evans himself, allegedly donned costumes associated with the Ku Klux Klan and bowled under a racially-insensitive team name—Klein's Kleaning Krew.

After the league's review, MiLB president Pat O'Conner concluded the academy employees' actions were "reprehensible ... It was shocking, it was offensive, and it was disgusting to me."

Al Bello/Getty Images
Students practice at the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring

As punishment for this misconduct, MiLB has taken the stern step of severing ties with the school, meaning that from this point forward, the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring will not be sending any students to PBUC and MLB's network of professional baseball.

Is this the death penalty for Jim Evans' academy? Will future prospective umpiring students choose not to attend the Evans Academy knowing full well that graduates have absolutely no chance of getting hired by MiLB?

Evans seems to think so: "I like to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but ... it seems like a conflict of interest."

Evans is referring to MiLB itself, which opened up its own Umpire School just this past year. The Umpire School competes with Evans and a third school—the Wendelstedt Umpire School—for course attendees hoping to break into professional baseball as a minor-league umpire.

Prior to 2012, only the Evans Academy and Wendelstedt Umpire School competed for the business of drawing prospective umpires to their PBUC-feeder programs.

The Wendelstedt Umpire School is not involved in this dispute, though it and The Umpire School stand to reap the rewards if prospective Evans Academy students choose to attend the other schools in the wake of the academy's banishment.

For the Jan. 2012 class, tuition at the Evans Academy cost $2,250 per student. The Umpire School equally cost $2,250 per student, while Wendelstedt Umpire School cost $2,320. All three programs additionally offered room and board options, with the Evans Academy charging $2,950 per student, The Umpire School charging $3,000 and the Wendelstedt Umpire School charging $2,950 per student.

Al Bello/Getty Images
A student refers to his rules book during an exam at the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring.

How about that for coincidence?

In 2007, tuition and board cost $2,800 at Wendelstedt and, while Evans increased the 2008 fee to $2,900, the current price of $2,950 at both Wendelstedt and Evans has not changed since 2009.

With the addition of a new school into the fray—another competing business—could there have possibly been undue influence in shutting Evans down for financial gain?

According to Evans, PBUC Executive Director Justin Klemm was involved in MiLB's investigation into the Evans Academy's bowling alley misconduct and was one of those who crafted punishment for the academy.

Klemm is also executive director for The Umpire School, giving credence to Evans' assertion of a conflict of interest.

The Evans Academy employees' actions clearly were indefensible and will reflect poorly on Minor League Baseball, even if MiLB is not the educator involved.

But with the academy proudly citing that more of its graduates have made it into professional baseball than graduates of any other school—with over 70 percent of MLB umpires having been taught by one of the academy's senior instructors—MiLB certainly has a perception issue on its hands.

In 2007, University of Texas (Austin) economics professor Daniel Hamermesh concluded that MLB umpires were racist. Of course, one must read past the abstract of his study to see that he drew this conclusion by the narrowest of margins—one missed pitch per game—but the perception issue persists as most readers and consumers of such information do not bother reading so deeply.

Did MiLB make the right call by severing ties with the Jim Evans Academy?

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In 2011, this theory was revisited and supported by economist Johan Sulaeman before being thoroughly refuted and condemned by Science 2.0 founder Hank Campbell, four days later. Still, what of those who saw Sulaeman's study four days before Campbell had a chance to respond?

In this world of "Blame the Official," umpires and referees are already perceived as "biased," have "bad eyes," or are simply "terrible."

Names such as Tim Donaghy and actions like tennis player Serena Williams' seemingly annual threats and assaults against officials—which often result in a laughable fine equal to one- or two- percent of Williams' tournament earnings—do nothing to conciliate this culture. Neither does a group of racially insensitive umpires at a bowling party.

Armed with this knowledge, MiLB knows they can't afford to revive racist banter to these poppycock theories.

In the end, the bowling alley incident is an embarrassment to officiating—not just in baseball, but across all sports. MiLB is justifiably upset and embarrassed, and some degree of punishment was clearly warranted.

The only question is whether, in this case, the severe punishment levied against the Evans Academy fit the misconduct that took place in a bowling alley one January evening in Kissimmee, Florida.

 

Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.

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