clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

It is past time for MLB to address its umpiring problem

New, 213 comments

The level of umpiring in MLB still does not match the high level of talent in the game right now. It’s beyond past time to fix that.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Well, well, well. It looks like Major League Baseball’s umpires are back on their [redacted] once again! This past weekend has seen MLB’s umpires provide multiple embarrassing displays on the field, and I’m not even talking about the regular misses on balls-and-strikes. Missing on strike zone calls are understandable since it would be insane to expect one-hundred percent perfection from umpires. The human element is real and unless the minor league experiment with robot umpires actually takes off, it’s here to stay.

If we’re going to keep human umpires around, then they absolutely have to do better, because it’s becoming a joke at this point. If this sounds familiar coming from me or other fans, then it is familiar because we’ve talked about the state of umpiring in MLB multiple times here right here on this blog site.

Here’s Eric Cole talking about how the World Series was called by the umpires back in 2016:

Umpires have paid their dues and think that they deserve respect. To an extent, they certainly do. Ultimately, though, it is a power trip to the highest degree. At this point, there is nothing being done to change it and it’s on Major League Baseball to do that...

...There comes a point though, when enough is enough. If players from both teams take umbrage with what you decide is called a strike, odds are one of them is probably right and you are most likely wrong. But when it comes to a veteran presence like West, he runs the show. It should never be this way, and the umpire’s name should not even be a topic of discussion during a broadcast...

...It should not be this way, but that is how the game has evolved. Umpires have paid their dues and think that they deserve respect. To an extent, they certainly do. Ultimately, though, it is a power trip to the highest degree. At this point, there is nothing being done to change it and it’s on Major League Baseball to do that...

Two years later in 2018, I had some choice thoughts on the issue as well:

Even if MLB themselves came back to the play and realized “Welp, the replay officials missed the call,” or “Welp, the umpires mad an egregious mistake,” the only thing that really happens publicly is that the league issues an apology, they acknowledge that the call was incorrect, and that’s it. There isn’t really a public reprimand of the umpires and officials and judging by the continual employment of umpires like C.B. Bucknor, Angel Hernandez, “Mr. Infield Fly” Sam Holbrook, Laz Diaz and Joe West, there’s really no sort of accountability for what these umpires do on the field.

They make the bad call on the field and receive all sorts of backlash from the fans but it doesn’t matter because the backlash only lasts for a limited time and then we’re all back to accepting that this is the status quo before the next egregious decision comes around. There’s no serious accountability other than whenever the umpires feel the need to uphold whatever level of integrity that they feel like reaching at the moment.

So here we are in 2021 and nothing has changed. If anything, it’s probably gotten worse! I’m going to start with the reason why y’all are here. You can always make the easy argument that Will Smith should’ve pitched better and avoided even being in this situation to begin with and you can also argue that the Phillies made the right choice by sending Alec Bohm to home plate to run on Marcell Ozuna’s arm. However, the fact of the matter is that Ozuna’s throw was just barely on target, Travis d’Arnaud made the tag, and Alec Bohm never touched home plate.

If that wasn’t enough for you, then here’s a gif that has the crucial play at the plate on eternal replay:

If that wasn’t enough for you, then here’s a still from the exact moment that should’ve swung this call in favor of the Braves:

Plain-and-simple, the umpires on the field got it wrong and the replay officials got it wrong. Alec Bohm still has yet to touch home plate and the Braves should’ve been batting with a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth or at least send the game into Rob Manfred’s stupid version of extra innings. Instead, we got this gem of a missed call and Braves fans were tossing garbage on the field yet again.

It’s obviously bad to throw stuff on the field since that inconveniences the hard-working staff at the stadium and only delays the game instead of actually affecting the umpires in any way emotionally. Dansby Swanson may have caught some heat for calling out the fans for throwing garbage on the field, but his comments were justified when it comes to who the trash-throwing actually affects the most.

With that being said, it would be nice if the umpires stopped giving fans reason to express their emotions in a toxic manner. We’ve seen far too many examples in recent years of umpires and the replay system somehow managing to see something that defies all logic when it comes to baseball, physics, time, and space itself — and that’s just when it comes to the Braves!

Amazingly, the missed call on Sunday night probably wasn’t even the worst blunder of the weekend. We actually don’t have to look too far on the baseball map for the biggest mistake of the weekend. It happened at Citi Field in another NL East tilt between the Mets and the Marlins. This is another situation where you can take the easy way out and say that the Marlins shouldn’t have even been in that situation to be with since they had the lead going into the bottom of the ninth and were struggling to get the inning over with anyways. Still, are you going to sit there and tell me that Michael Conforto should’ve been awarded first base for this?

What makes that call even more astonishing is that the pitch was caught and in the zone. That should’ve been strike three!

So naturally, this resulted in umpire Ron Kulpa admitting his fault in public after the game and stating that he missed the call and that it should’ve been an out for the Marlins. If there were any other repercussions for Kulpa for missing a game-changing call like that, then they must have been kept in-house by Major League Baseball because you probably aren’t going to hear about it. Judging by the fact that umpiring in the sport has gotten even worse with each passing season, I’d be willing to wager that the apology and maybe a stern warning is all that happened to Kulpa and the baseball world will just move on until the next egregious call is made — which happened to occur only two days later in Cobb County!

Unless Major League Baseball umpires are actually held accountable for their performance and some common sense changes are made to MLB’s replay system, this is going to continue to remain the same. Twitter accounts like Umpire Auditor and Umpire Scorecards are fun supplements to the baseball-watching experience, but they shouldn’t have to exist because these umpires shouldn’t be quasi-celebrities when it comes to their abilities on the field — or lack thereof. Fans running Twitter accounts shouldn’t be the most public-facing examples of umpire evaluation that we see in this sport. MLB has to get serious about dealing with the lack of quality in their umpiring corps, otherwise it’s going to damage the integrity of the game going forward.

You know it’s bad when the best player in baseball (who usually has nothing exciting or even remotely controversial to say either on the internet or in real life) had to log on just to laugh at the absurdity of a call that was just made on baseball’s showcase broadcast of the week. If that is happening and Mike Trout felt the need to go public about it, then I shudder to think about what the players say amongst each other in private about the umpiring of the very sport that they play.

With that being said, I don’t think the umpires are really in a hurry to hear any type of criticism from the players. Ian Kinsler once got fined for publicly criticizing Angel Hernandez following what was one of many bad games behind the plate for the veteran umpire and the umps responded by collectively wearing white armbands in protest of the fact that MLB didn’t suspend Kinsler. The goofy protest ended the day after it started, and Jeff Passan properly pointed out just how ridiculous the entire endeavor was:

In the spirit of the “verbal attacks” that prompted some Major League Baseball umpires to wear white wristbands in protest Saturday, here is a written complement that will say what players never would: This is nothing more than a feeble, misguided, ill-conceived dissent from a group that showed its hypocrisy hours into its act of defiance. If umpires weren’t every bit the chest-puffing ninnies they purport the players to be, maybe their stand wouldn’t look so nakedly duplicitous.

So once again, I’m calling on MLB to find a way to make this situation better. The replay system is in dire need of tweaks. What’s the point of having a system that’s meant to correct missed calls on the field if the replay system continues to prop up the missed calls? The umpiring in general has continued to go down the wrong path. Are we going to see Major League Baseball admit that things are getting bad with the umpires and that they, at the very least, need to start publicly holding umpires accountable for bad calls? Are simple apologies going to continue to be the extent of any fallout from bad calls? Or is baseball going to just keep on rolling with umpiring as-is and we’ll continue to see some umpires becoming nearly as recognizable as some players due to their performance on the field? At this point, I’m betting on the latter.