Why MLB Needed to Suspend an Umpire to Send a Message, Save Face
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Have you heard the one about the umpire who got the call wrong?
You know, Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan throws a pitch to the Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist that's, oh, maybe two feet outside and a foot low...but is called strike three and ends the game with the tying runner on base.
Funny, funny stuff.
Or how 'bout the one when Adam Rosales of the Oakland Athletics hits a ninth-inning, two-out double off Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez that's clearly a game-tying home run...except upon replay review, the call isn't changed, and Oakland loses by a run?
OK, so maybe the A's didn't think that one was so amusing.
Wait, you mean you haven't heard the knee-slapper from the other night where Houston Astros reliever Wesley Wright officially enters the game against the Los Angeles Angels in the seventh inning but is then taken out before ever throwing a pitch...which is only required by the rulebook?
That one had us in stitches.
The thing is, with these botches, the joke is on everyone—certainly the umpires, but also the teams, the fans, heck, the whole sport.
What's worse, though, is that this abominable umpiring isn't limited to poor decisions.
On April 28, Rays left-hander David Price was heading back toward the dugout at the end of his start when home plate umpire Tom Hallion reportedly said something more than a little out of line to him, according to the reigning Cy Young winner:
I walked off the mound. I was mad at myself and I didn't say a single word to the umpire, I didn't look at him and he yells at me to 'Throw the ball over the [expletive] plate,' and that's why our dugout went nuts. They heard him say it.
Hallion's response? "I'll come right out bluntly and say [Price is] a liar."
Price then took to Twitter to voice his displeasure over how he claimed Hallion acted and responded.
1. I am not a liar 2. I would not make that stuff up 3. My own dad doesn't speak to me that way 4. Again I am not a liar #accountability— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) April 28, 2013
What was interesting about this incident was that while Price and a pair of his teammates were fined $1,000 each—they violated baseball's social-media policy by tweeting about the aftermath—Hallion was also docked the same amount, meaning Major League Baseball at least felt there was some blame to be placed on the umpire.
Also interesting? MLB has come out and admitted that two of the calls—by Angel Hernandez on the Adam Rosales should-have-been-homer and by Fieldin Culbreth on the Astros' illegal pitching change—were incorrect.
But is that enough?
The problem with these instances and others like them is that not only are the umpires combative, belligerent and plain wrong—hey, three strikes, yer out!—but there's also very little accountability.
So with four separate controversial calls and blow-ups over a four-week span, maybe what MLB announced Friday afternoon wasn't such a shock:
Perhaps the fact that Culbreth will be suspended for two games, and that he and his three-man crew were also fined, shows that MLB is hoping to improve the standards when it comes to the performance and behavior of the men in blue.
This was a stern and decisive reaction by the league, but at some point, something had to happen to make umpires more accountable for their actions and help MLB save some face in the wake of what has become a continuing and all-too-frequent problem.
In fact, it's fair to wonder whether the league did this to get the media, the fans and the players off its back, especially in this day and age of immediate reactions and social media.
Whether the threat of suspension in addition to fines will raise the level of umpiring remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure: The jokes will start having punchlines that pack a little more punch.
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