MLB: Can Anything Be Done to Shore Up Professional Umpiring?

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MLB: Can Anything Be Done to Shore Up Professional Umpiring?
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Jerry Meals tosses Nate McClouth and Fredi Gonzalez for arguing balls and strikes.

The Pittsburgh Pirates played the Atlanta Braves in an incredible 19 inning marathon on Tuesday, July 26. The game ended on a highly controversial call, following a play at the plate.

Almost immediately, sportscasters took to the air to scoop each other on the game-ending video. ESPN's Sports Center duly noted that Pirates' skipper Clint Hurdle was livid.

Hurdle's purple complexion told the story (even if you couldn't read his lips), as he unloaded on home plate umpire, Jerry Meals.

Wednesday morning, ESPN quoted Meals as saying, "I thought he [Pirate catcher Michael McKenry] ole'd him [applying a sweeping phantom tag]."

Replays of the play showed Atlanta's Julio Lugo was out at least three feet before arriving at the plate, no matter the camera angle.

In his postgame interview on Root Sports, Hurdle said, "You'd like to see the game finished by the players—win or lose...um, and for it to end that way, is as disappointing as it gets in a game...The game deserves better. Tonight's game deserved way better than that..."

Should MLB overrule umpires?

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Umpires are human. They make mistakes. I get it. However, speaking as a Pennsylvania state-certified scholastic umpire, it is incumbent upon the umpire to get into position to make the right call and base that call on what is observed.

Had I (or one of my colleagues) made as sloppy a call at the high school or college level, we'd be gone by lunchtime, the following day. MLB umpires are seemingly above reproach.

How often have you witnessed an umpire at the major league level call a DP on a player when the pivoting fielder is "in the area" of second base? They do so unapologetically and with impunity.

Tuesday's call brought to mind Ken Burkhart's blown call in the 1970 World Series when he called Bernie Carbo of the Cincinnati Reds out at the plate after Orioles' catcher Elrod Hendricks tagged Carbo with an empty glove.

That was a very dark moment in professional officiating. Burkhart, a former major league pitcher, had collided with the Oriole catcher and was out of position to make the call.

Tim Kurkjian called called MLB umpires, "the best in the world" (presumably Meals is included). But, is it fair to include umpires who make such blatant mistakes? We're not talking a difference of opinion on balls and strikes, here.

Tuesday's game could have lasting consequences...particularly if the Pirates miss making the postseason by a mere game.

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