Archive for July, 2013

The Not-So-Infallible Umpire

It’s been a tough year to be a Major League umpire.

Every season has its share of close plays and, inevitably, blown calls by the men in blue, but the 2013 campaign has been particularly difficult. It seems as though this season has seemingly witnessed more missed calls in key moments in baseball games than previous seasons.

Let’s start in Cleveland with the Indians-Athletics game that took place May 8 of this season. A’s batter Adam Rosales looked like he had tied the game in the top of the ninth inning with a solo home run, but umpires award Rosales with just a double. After leaving the field to review the play, Angel Hernandez and his umpire crew still ruled the play a double, citing a lack of conclusive evidence to overturn the original call. The A’s did not drive in Rosales from second, and lost the game.

Need a more recent event? Take the July 29 Red Sox-Rays game for example. Tampa Bay led 2-1 over Boston at Fenway Park in the bottom of the 8th inning. The Red Sox had runners on second and third with one out, and first baseman Brandon Snyder at the plate. Snyder flied to left field, where Rays outfielder Sam Fuld threw out the Red Sox’ Daniel Nava at home. However, video replay clearly showed that Nava was able to slide under the shinguard of Rays catcher Jose Molina and beat the throw. The call by home plate umpire Jerry Meals stood, and the Rays were credited with an inning-ending double play. Tampa Bay went on to win the game 2-1 and take over first place in the American League East.

In both cases, key runs were at stake late in each game, and were ultimately taken off the board by these missed calls. But this isn’t a rant about getting rid of human umpires or how to better do their job. It’s about owning up their mistakes.

Detroit Tigers fans (and most fans in general) remember when Armando Galarraga came an out away from a perfect game in 2010, only to have it taken away by a blown call on the 27th out by first base umpire Jim Joyce. As heartbreaking as that play still is to watch three years later, most fans also remember the class that Joyce showed following the game.

Upon seeing replays after the Tigers had won the game, Joyce realized his mistake, and owned up to it. He cried talking to reporters, saying he “just cost that kid a perfect game,” and was still emotional the next day when Galarraga presented Joyce with the lineup card for that day’s game. Joyce’s regret and humility abandoned the front that many in his profession hide behind–the idea that the umpires are infallible. In the wake of a call that erased baseball history, Joyce gained a lot of respect around the baseball community for how he handled the whole situation.

Much like Joyce in 2010, Jerry Meals spoke to reporters after the game, and admitted that his call had been wrong. Meals explained what he saw from his angle, and that the incorrect call had been made. Meals made no attempt to hide behind the “veil of infallibility,” and although the call still stands, Red Sox fans at least got a small piece of consolation.

Hernandez on the other hand refused to acknowledge that a mistake had been made, and even went as far as to ask reporters to not record his interview. Hernandez did explain what he saw while reviewing the play, but it took MLB executive vice president Joe Torre to come out and say that the call had been blown.

Here’s the takeaway of this: umpires need to own up to the mistakes that they make. Talk to reporters after the game, tell them what you saw, and explain your decision. If it was wrong, say it was wrong. Unless umpires are constantly making incorrect calls that directly affect the outcome of a game, they shouldn’t have to worry about the occasional post-game interview.

Umpires are human–they shouldn’t pretend that they aren’t.

It’s about time I resurrected this blog, more posts are on the way. In the meantime, for more viewing pleasure, check out these videos of some truly terrible calls:

Tim Welke: The angle is everything.

Don Denkinger: 1985 World Series, Game 6. 

BONUS JERRY MEALS FOOTAGE: Meals begins the Pirates’ 2011 tailspin.