First of all, though, we need to visit the career of umpire John Hirshbeck.....
While the result in the end probably would have been the same in a Yankee victory over the Toronto Blue Jays Friday Afternoon, one critical call could have been the difference in any other game...
Just like Strombopolous on "The Hour" I'm going to give you the run down:
- Hirshbeck has been a major league umpire since since 1984, a career that has spanned just over 25 major league seasons!
- Towards the end of his 16-year tenure as strictly an American League Umpire, it was only then that Hirshbeck would become the subject of controversy in a game between the Blue Jays and Orioles between himself and former Blue Jay standout Roberto Alomar:
Hirschbeck came to be widely known for an on-the field incident on September 27, 1996 in Toronto when Baltimore Oriole Roberto Alomar got into a heated, two-way argument with Hirschbeck over a called third strike that Alomar alleged was outside the strike zone.
This wasn't just any arugment, though.
"Hirschbeck then ejected Alomar from the game, and Alomar spit in Hirschbeck's face, claiming that the umpire had used a degrading ethnic slur against him. Lip readers contend that Hirschbeck called Alomar "a faggot" as Alomar was walking away. Alomar, and other players, claimed that Hirschbeck's personality had changed, and that he had been on the edge and extremely bitter since the death of his son from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), and learning that another son also had it. The day after the incident, after hearing Alomar's remarks, Hirschbeck charged into the Orioles' clubhouse and had to be restrained by a fellow umpire. Alomar was suspended for five games and required to donate $50,000 to ALD research. One week later, on October 5, Hirschbeck said he had forgiven Alomar for the incident." (Wikipedia)
Although the two did make amends in a game on April 22nd, 1997 in Baltimore publicly, the sting of the incident had continued to live on- many blamed Robbie Alomar, but it seemed like from lip readers all over America that it was Hirshbeck to be blamed, and not the terrible treatment that Alomar had endured for spitting in an umpire's face for the rest of his likely hall-of-fame career that saw him vault to the Blue Jays Wall of Excellence.
Hirshbeck, now a 13-year veteran was now under the lights of scrutiny by Major League Baseball, and the controversy wouldn't end there. In 2002, Major League Baseball wrote a letter to Hirshbeck stating that he had a high percentage of missed balls and strikes. Perhaps the umpire who had been in service for almost 20 years was losing the ability to call a proper game, or for good measure, he was not of the most professional calibre. Unfortunately, there was a union behind Hirshbeck's job, and Major League Baseball, in 2002, still weary of the 1994 players strike, obviously couldn't pursue the matter to the highest degree possible.
Hirshbeck would strike controversy yet again in that 2002 season when he told umpire Mark Carlson not to issue a warning to Cincinnati Reds' pitcher Gabe White after throwing a baseball over the head of Juiced Slugger Barry Bonds. Jose Canseco once wrote that certain umpires wouldn't give you the light of day, certain ones just absolutely hated you and would make bad calls on purpose...
Although the incidents were years apart and one had to understand the nature of what Hirshbeck had been going through back in the mid-'90s it was no suprise to anyone that he had come up on a short list of umpires who missed a large amount of balls and strikes.
And blown calls once again were particularly evident in a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees in which Hirshbeck blew at least seven calls, including missing the play that drilled Lyle Overbay in the foot, and then not giving A.J. Burnett strike three on a fastball that was blatantly straight down the middle. At this point you had to wonder if this was Hirshbeck's way of making it up to Overbay that he had blown the call. Later on in the game, a close play at the plate revealed that Texiara had indeed slid in safely despite Hirshbeck's "out" call, and A.J. Burnett was given far too large of an outside corner at times to work with. This was especially noticeable when Brian Tallet literally got no calls whatsoever at critical moments in the ball game on the outside corner himself.
Given Hirshbeck's storied 25-year major league career, this blogger has to suggest that perhaps John Hirshbeck is still a culprit of routinely blowing calls as a home plate umpire at the very least. It's tough to knock down a Major League crew chief, though.
A hard knock at the very least this is, but this will be ongoing- is John Hirshbeck becoming too unfit to umpire? Canseco once said something along the words that the Minor League Umpires will do everything they can to call the game right, but when they get up to the big league level, after a certain number of years, they feel like they have the power to influence a game....and that's not right, even if it is natural to happen.
Alot of players talk to Hirshbeck during the game, and that's just a little bit interesting too...is Hirshbeck distracting himself?
Maybe this is all ridiculous, maybe it is, but I wonder, Hirshbeck is almost 55 years old, and I know that's not very old for a man, but middle-aged men don't change much, that I know. He's probably the same umpire he was in 2002 when he was warned for missing so many calls behind the plate...
But then again, in Hirshbeck's words:
"Some guys have a tighter strike zone, but if the ball is over the plate at the right height, that's a strike no matter who you are," Hirschbeck said. "Up and down, the same thing. Some guys are a little tighter. They want that ball, in their minds, to be right on the plate. 'Other guys say that if it nicks the corner, that's good enough for me..."
The umpiring styles vary, I guess, but still, maybe, and just maybe John Hirshbeck should be under an "umpire watch". We'll see how he performs for the rest of the series. Twenty-five years in the bigs- the man's gotta feel just a tad too comfortable.