Umpiring just seems to be getting worse throughout Major League Baseball. It feels like we could devote at least one post per day to a blown call, some of which are botched so badly that it's simply an embarrassment to the sport.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has seen all he can stand, blowing up after Monday's loss to the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers lost the game in large part because of a blown third strike call by home plate umpire Bill Welke. Consequently, instead of getting out of the inning, Detroit went on to allow three runs. In what seemed like a measured, calculated rant, Leyland called upon the media to write more about these terrible calls.
“I mean, you guys need to write something and hold people accountable!” Leyland said to reporters after the game. “You know what? We’re all accountable in this business! All of us are accountable! And when I say all of us, I mean everybody that’s involved in the game needs to be held accountable!"
Given all of the bad umpiring we've seen this season, it's doubtful too many would disagree with Leyland's take. Well, except umpires. And maybe beat reporters, who are too busy writing about the game at hand and issues surrounding the team to really investigate and attack poor umpiring.
Actually, I do take issue with one aspect of Leyland's remarks. Of course, he's right that umpires need to be held accountable, just as players and managers are. But challenging the media to call umpires out is misguided.
This has to be addressed by the true authority figure here: MLB. Even before the clamor for wider instant replay as umpires get increasingly dissected and scrutinized on television and online media, baseball coddled its game officials far too much.
MLB suspended Bob Davidson for his conduct in arguing with Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel two weeks ago. His behavior was deemed unsuitable and unprofessional, and he was penalized for it. This needs to happen far more often.
Why aren't umpires, for example, forced to take questions from the media in their locker room or during a postgame press conference the way players and managers are? Their actions can affect the outcome of a game just as much, if not more, than any play or decision made.
Yet they rarely have to answer for their mistakes unless a pool reporter gets to talk with them or someone (such as Jim Joyce after blowing Armando Galarraga's perfect game two years ago) stands up and takes his flogging.
Why aren't umpires sent to the minors when they don't meet major league expectations? New York Mets reliever Manny Acosta was designated for assignment on Monday for allowing 11 runs over his past three outings. Subsequently, he's no longer in the majors. If an umpire is consistently botching calls, why is he still doing so in the big leagues?
To be fair, virtually all these calls have to be made on the spot without the benefit of the ideal angle or a slower speed. Of course, if MLB would just expand the parameters of its instant replay system, plays that occur too fast or beyond the sight of an umpire could still be ruled upon correctly with the video technology that's already in place on most every team's television broadcast.
Well, give those umpires the best opportunity to succeed then. ESPN's Jayson Stark recently stated the league was finally ready to expand instant replay. The key component to a new system will be a group of umpires watching from a central location that will ring in when they see a call that needs to be overturned. The right call gets made and the umpiring crew on hand gets the help they increasingly need.
As an added benefit, such a setup would also allow for umpires consistently making poor calls to be reviewed. Umpires might prefer not to give performance reviews to fellow umpires, but the outline of a system that would say, "OK, this guy keeps missing calls and it needs to be addressed" would be in place.
MLB should take advantage of the opportunity to exert some authority over a facet of the game that is affecting the quality of the on-field product. Players, coaches and fans have to trust that the umpiring crew on the field is going to do no harm to the ballgame at hand. Holding umpires accountable for their actions maintains that standard.
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