Friday night I was at the Dodgers-Marlins game and saw firsthand the farce that baseball umpiring is. I was compelled to shout at the sky to whoever may be listening in the heavens. Unfortunately stadium security was clearing out the remaining thousand or so fans remaining so I have to direct my rumblings towards the internet heavens.
Despite becoming a baseball fan sixteen years ago with the arrival of the Marlins to my South Florida neighborhood, I’m still somewhat of a novice when it comes to the rules and details of the sport.
For example, after letting the events of Friday night simmer in my head for 24 hours and speaking to several fans much more knowledgeable than I, I’ve come to this conclusion: baseball umpires have incredibly too much power. I know, it’s not an earth shaking revelation. Fans have bemoaned this fact for years but it’s worth reiterating.
The events I’m writing about are as follows: the first base umpire blowing two critical calls that went against the Marlins in a tight contest. The first was a ball that hit Dan Uggla in the arm and would have put him on base. The first base ump overruled the home plate ump and said that Uggla had gotten in the way of the in some sort of half swing/bunt motion.
Watching the replay, it’s clear that’s not the case. It was such a frustrating call that usually mild mannered, soft spoken manager Fredi Gonzalez left the Marlins dugout to argue the call. Of course as is always the case, he was ejected. Then slugger Dan Uggla argued as well and he was ejected as well. Final damage report? Our manager was gone, our home run hitter was gone and the call remained as first ordained.
The second painful blunder by this ump occurred in the bottom of the ninth when on a fantastic defensive play, the Dodgers managed to get speedy Emilio Bonafacio with quick reflexes by both the first baseman and the pitcher. Or did they? Again, I’m no Peter Gammons, but it’s my understanding that when there is a tie between the defensive player and a runner on a bag, the tie goes to the runner.
Again, the first base ump was calling a different game; one occurring solely in his blurry mind.
Bonafacio was called out much to the indignation of both Emilio and the fans who responded with a chorus of boos and one errant, flying frozen lemonade that landed just a few feet away from the first base ump. I don’t condone the tossing of icy treats at an employee of Major League Baseball but I agree that this umpire deserved it and much worse.
Major League Baseball has many woes clouding its beloved game such as the steroids era we’re still mired in but I think it has another issue it has complete control over as opposed to juicing. The policing of baseball’s power mad umpires needs to be addressed. It needs to be because it doesn’t exist. This isn’t a case of if only my team had gotten this call or that call we would’ve won.
No, in fact I’m a firm believer that if a team wins it should on their merit alone. In order to get that W, the team should play well enough that they rise above all hurdles including bad calls by umpires, referees, etc.
I’ve coached youth basketball with that mindset and it should be an attitude that stays with players throughout all levels of sport and competition. The game should never come down to one play (unless you’re a fan and desire that stomach turning thrill).
The most irritating aspect of the umpire/MLB power structure to me has to be the position of the manager when he goes up against these giants. God forbid he try to rectify a wrong against his club.
In this social caste system, umpires are the lord’s and managers the serf’s who are dismissed after any complaint with such disregard that I’m surprised there aren’t more Lou Pinella type base throwing incidents throughout the season.
There needs to be checks and balances of power much like our American government. Hold on, let me bring closer to home in the sporting world: how about we make it similar to say, the NFL? They have instant replay and they have red flags and they have civil discussions between refs and coaches where no one gets ejected or embarrassed. It works for them, why not for baseball?
I understand that certain rule and procedure changes may lengthen already long games (i.e. instant replay, certain managers challenging every borderline) but my father pointed out something very important.
Baseball may be a fun game played by man-child enthusiasts but it’s also a business and that means that to many thousands of people, it’s a livelihood. A blown call here or there won’t cost anyone their job, but couple with that a losing streak of a batting slump or a high era and suddenly there are managers in danger of getting sacked or players being sent down or traded.
The fans are hurt too, perhaps not financially (even though we did pay to watch a fair game), but when they feel cheated, it’s a deep, biting bitterness with no outlet and no resolution ultimately.