MLB Umpires: The Good, the Bad & the Fugly

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MLB Umpires: The Good, the Bad & the Fugly

Jim Joyce, the umpire whose missed call deprived Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game on June 2, is baseball’s best umpire nonetheless, according to an exclusive ESPN The Magazine Baseball Confidential poll of 100 major league players.

In general, however, baseball players think the umpires are pretty good. Overall, 29 percent of the players surveyed gave the umpires a “B” grade, with 20 percent giving them a “C” and 16 percent and “A.”

I will say that I tend to suspect a general distrust of things said to be anonymous might have colored the results a tad “rosier” than they are in reality. Ever since names from the anonymous list of 2003 PED test failures started trickling out I imagine that most players will keep their cards close to their chest on potential hot-button issues.

Players also were decidedly opposed to replay and overwhelmingly applauded commissioner Bud Selig for not overturning Joyce’s call that kept Galarraga from being the 21st pitcher in history to throw a perfect game.

Joyce was named in 53 percent of the surveys, which asked players for the three best and three worst umpires in the game, as well as questions about instant replay and whether Galarraga’s perfect game should stand. That beat runner-up Tim McClelland, who ironically was panned for his performance in Game 4 of last year’s American League Championship Series. McClelland was named on 34 percent of the ballots.

Both of these guys are known for some pretty huge mistakes in the last 12 months, but they also share another thing. They owned up to their screw-ups. Unlike clowns like Joe West, C.B. Bucknor and Angel Hernandez, they admit when they screw up. That other trifecta of ‘tards just puffs their chest out and stubbornly refuses to acknowledge their short comings.

Not surprisingly CB Bucknor was named on 42 percent of the ballots as worst umpire, leading that category. The total narrowly edged Joe West, who was named on 40 percent, and Angel Hernandez, who was named on 22 percent.

Why does it not amaze anyone who watches a lot of baseball that those three stooges were topping that list?  The guys whose names get mentioned on ESPN more than any other officials, which is never a good thing for an umpire, are deemed the worst at their craft.  Go figure.

Joyce, in his 22nd year in the majors, was the clear choice of National League players, with Jim Wolf (18 percent) second. Joyce and McClelland, a 27-year veteran, tied for first among American League players (52 percent)—both were former AL umpires before baseball combined its umpires into one entity in 1999.

The survey was taken after Joyce’s call, which came on what would have been the final out of a perfect game for Galarraga. Joyce called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe at first on a ground ball hit to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who threw to Galarraga covering the bag. Replays showed Donald was clearly out.

Joyce apologized nearly immediately for his mistake. Players surveyed said it didn’t impact their view of him.

“The sad thing about the Galarraga game is, Jim Joyce is seriously one of the best umpires around,” one player said. “He always calls it fair, so players love him. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s terrible that this happened to him.”

Bucknor, in his 11th season, was named the worst umpire by both American and National League players, with West and Hernandez second and third in both leagues. West, in his 32nd season, and Hernandez, in his 17th, work on the same crew; West is the crew chief.

West, who made headlines earlier this season when he criticized the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for taking too long to play games, was named the umpire with the quickest trigger to eject players. He was named on 35 percent of the ballots, followed by Rob Drake (12 percent) and Bill Hohn (9 percent).

The survey also found players lukewarm—at best—on replay. Only 22 percent of players favored replays for calls on the bases, and only 36 supported replay on fair/foul calls.

And only 13 percent thought Selig should have given Galarraga a perfect game despite Joyce’s botched call. Said one player: “As a pitcher, it was heartbreaking to see that. But the call had to be overturned on the field, not in the front office.”

I couldn’t agree more.

This article is also featured on You're Killin' Me, Smalls!

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