Baseball Ladies Round Table: Umpiring the Umpires


Umpires. Everyone has been all atwitter about them all season. From Joe West’s game length criticisms to Andres Galarraga’s 28-out perfect game to Scott Barry nearly being Ryan Howard’s midnight snack, the focus on the men in blue this year has been stifling. Below is the first CDTLB Round Table. Liz posed the questions to our crew and what resulted was a comprehensive, multifaceted discussion about MLB umpires, instant replay, and the science of human error. Feel free to join in the conversation and look for more round tables over the coming months! – O’Malley

Question #1: Given the controversies that have surrounded MLB umpires this season, do you feel that the current replay system is working, or do you think it needs to be expanded?

LIZ: I certainly think that replay needs to be expanded. There have been a number of bad rulings on the field this year, and they have gotten a lot of publicity. How do we know they were bad calls? Because the TV broadcast people can take the play, slow it down, and show it again. They know if the call was correct or not. Those watching at home know if the play was good or not. The only people who don’t know are the umpires on the field. This technology is barely one step above the VCR and cassette player. There are six-year-olds using this technology to make the next YouTube video your office mate will send you and force you to watch with her. Why Major League Baseball doesn’t want to use this technology to ensure that the calls are right is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I want to be clear; I don’t think there are more blown calls this year than any other time. But I think that the fact that the MLB is continuing to eschew technology like they’re fucking Amish is absolutely laughable. There don’t have to be any blown calls. I know that human error has historically been part of the “charm” of the game, but when does that stop being charming and start being just plain wrong?

MEGHAN: While I agree there have been many blown calls this season, and in the 2009 postseason, I think many of the errors this year (and in recent years) have been magnified because of the Jim Joyce incident. That being said, I do not believe there have been more blown/missed calls this year than in previous years. Technology is always improving, and if the Jim Joyce call, or any blown call, happened 50 years ago – or even 10 years ago – it wouldn’t be as ridiculed or examined as it is in 2010. I don’t think the replay system is far enough along to comment on whether or not it’s working. Since home run calls can only be challenged and replayed, I think it’s fair to say that the limited replay of home run calls is working.

VAL: I’m hesitant to expand instant replay in baseball because the game is slow enough as it is. Can you imagine how long the game would be if umps had to review every questionable strike, fair or foul ball, or close tag at the bag? If I were forced to expand it, I would include plays at the plate or maybe give each coach one ‘challenge’ per game like they do in the NFL.

Question #2: There have been many suggestions as to how the usage of replay should be handled in baseball. How would you expand replay? What are some of the pitfalls of having more replay?

MICHELLE: Nothing drives me crazier than when a skipper asks an umpire to review a play and they refuse, offering up the obligatory “I know what I saw” rhetoric. I am against expanding replay to cover balls and strikes, but I think it would be best if MLB adopted a system similar to that of the NFL. Allow the managers to request the review of X amount of plays per series (yes, series), and take the subjectivity of “is this really worth looking at” out the equation completely. The managers are not new to the game, and I can only think of maybe one or two off the top of my head that could potentially get annoying with this new “power,” but for the most part they don’t want to get wrapped up in the trivial BS any more than the rest of us do.

MEGHAN: I don’t think that replay should be expanded in baseball. I like the human element of the game; it is what sets the game apart from the other major sports. There will always be blown calls in baseball, even if you implement every type of replay imaginable. The only type of increased technology on the playing field I support is some sort of laser technology for a more consistent and efficient strike zone.

ANGELA: I think replay should be expanded with questionable fair/foul calls, tags on the base path, hit batters, as well as rulings on the field that maybe the human eye can’t catch at first glance. It would be unfortunate to get into October and have the wrong team be crowned World Champions due to a blown call by the umpire staff. However, I do see the pitfalls. It could prolong contests longer than the average game and coaching staff could abuse the expanded replay using it for nonsense calls and rulings. We could argue pros and cons forever, but the bottom line is it would be a hell of a lot more beneficial than not.

Question #3: Do you feel umpires are still important to the game? Why do you think they are still needed?

MICHELLE: In every facet of life, subjectivity is subject (heh) to criticism and objectivity is a trait left to be desired. And in an age in which technology is rapidly changing and improving, the most popular benefit is always the capability to get more information even faster than before, and subsequently the ability to immediately tell everyone else when they’re wrong. It’s easy to sit back and pine for robots calling balls and strikes, fair balls and foul balls (dear God I hope it never comes to that), especially when we can all sit at home with our HDTVs and DVRs and be “living room umpires.” However, baseball has been played in the capacity we know it today for over a century, and until we became so fortunate (spoiled) to practically have a closer look at the game than those playing it themselves, umpiring seemed to be a much smaller issue. I’ve used the phrase “outsmarting the computer” before when battling a program that was giving me a hard time, or twiddling my thumbs whilst I wait for a document to load, and it’s because of that I feel that umpires are still important to the game of baseball if not for the sole reason that sometimes we need someone to outsmart the computer. Camera angles are not always perfect. We’ve seen PitchTrack err more times than Scott Barry has ejected a player for looking at him the wrong way. Only so many aspects of the game can be regulated to operate within the realm of perceived perfection, and sometimes a real, live person is needed to oversee the chaos.

KIM: I think that the problem with many umpires is that they’ve begun to take themselves more seriously than the game. Nothing – not a player, not a play, not an umpire – should be taken more seriously than the game. I’m not sure if there’s an oath or something that umpires have to take when they’re training, but they have to know that they’re not bigger than the game itself. If all of the umpires employed by Major League Baseball knew that, I don’t think we’d have a problem. I do think that they’re important to the game. Players and managers are going to get hot-headed and think that they’re right when they may be wrong, and umpires can verify that certain plays are made. A good umpire will admit when he’s wrong – such as Jim Joyce – and a shitty umpire will continue to think he’s all that and a bag of chips when he’s really just a huge ass – such as piece-of-shit Scott Barry. Blown calls are going to happen. Mistakes are going to be made. I think that MLB needs to hold umpires accountable and responsible when they do something wrong. When games are close, when the outcome of a season is potentially at risk because of an umpire’s call, and something goes wrong? MLB needs to do everything in its power to make it right. There are some bad apples in the bunch these days, but I do believe that umpires are still needed – if they’re doing it right.

Question #4: What solution would you propose to assist in regulating an umpires’ actions during a challenge on the field (close calls, player & manager arguments, ejections, etc)?

KIM: Umpires need to know that they’re going to be held accountable if they screw up. In the case of Jim Joyce, he was ridiculed by so many people. He tried his best to fix what he’d done and make amends, and did it in a ridiculously humble and classy fashion. It didn’t make up for the fact that he’d blown a call in what would have been a perfect game for Armando Galarraga, but he did the right thing. What about Scott Barry? He was an absolute ass, and what happened to him? He got booed by Philly fans? Big whoop. He was completely unprofessional, but walked away scot-free. That CAN’T happen. They can’t abuse their power and get away with it. MLB needs to be a lot harder on these guys and not let them continue to do what they’re doing. How they should do that, I’m not sure, but something has to change. Some umpires have made TERRIBLE calls that cost teams games, and now that we’re going into the home stretch and making a playoff run, that can affect so much more. Umpires need to check their egos at the dugout steps and start doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to be done. MLB needs to make sure they are actually doing that.

KELLY: I think they’re trying to do the best they can in a job where at least 95% of the people dislike them for their job alone. They are regulated and reprimanded but since we don’t hear about it as it’s not publicized, we think they may get a slap on the wrist or a high-five depending on who they throw out or who the bad call is made against. Sam Holbrook (who was also on the field) said the day after the Scott Barry incident that his mission in his job is to not make it on SportsCenter. Why is that? If he’s making national news, then that means something really wrong happened during the game and he was a part of it. If he does his job well and makes the right/deserving calls, then no one bothers him, he gets to go home and not worry about someone taking things too far…. after all, it is just a game.

DEANNA: Umpire jail. Think of the possibilities! Being forced to watch hundreds upon thousands of plays a day in solitary confinement, never to be seen or heard from again. Problem solved! No, just kidding. But seriously, there should be some kind of huge penalty for being a grade A douchenozzle, right? Something really evil and full of bitch work, like watering the infield in the hot sun or taking tickets at the gates with the most annoying, wave-making fans we all love to hate. Or maybe they should get a good smack in the face or fall victim to the wooden hanger or the “pinch and twist”. How about throwing batteries at them? Or yakking on them? Or tasing them? Just kidding again. At the very least, umpires should pay a fine and/or be suspended from a certain number of games as punishment for their awful presence on the field. When suspension is up, an umpire should have a year of probation to prove they can act in a more appropriate way.

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