Saturday, May 11, 2013

A bad week of umpiring

Oakland manager Bob Melvin tells off Angel Hernandez
after Hernandez blew the call on what should have been
a game-tying home run Wednesday in Cleveland.
If Hernandez listens as well as he watches replay,
he thought Melvin was miming.
I could no more umpire a major league game than I could pitch one. It's a difficult job. But it's not an impossible one.

On Wednesday we had the botched home run review. On Thursday we had the umpiring crew that doesn't know the rules about pitching changes.

It was a pretty lousy week in major league umpiring.

Angel Hernandez and Fieldin Culbreth are taking the heat in these fiascoes, and deservedly so, as the crew chiefs of the umpiring crews involved.

A few more or less random comments:

Hernandez may not be the worst full-time major league umpire — I'd vote for "Balkin' Bob" Davidson for that dishonor — but he'd probably be bottom five on the list of most knowledgeable fans. So I was stunned to learn that he was crew chief. OK, acting crew chief. He was still the guy in charge of the umpiring crew. Even for one game, nothing good is going to come of putting Angel Hernandez in charge of the umpires.

Peter Gammons theorizes that Hernandez refused to reverse the call Wednesday night because he's philosophically opposed to replay review. If true, that should be a firing offense. He doesn't get to pick the rules to follow.

As I understand the replay process, three umpires watch the replay but the decision is made by the crew chief. I don't know what the other two umps in the room with Hernandez thought of the decision —  MLB has gagged them all at this point — but it's certainly plausible that Hernandez overruled both.
Chain of fools: The umpiring crew (from left) of
Adrian Johnson, Bill Welke, Fieldin Culbreth and Brian
O'Nora the day after their rulebook fiasco.

As bad as the non-home run call was, the failure of a different umpiring crew the next day to require a Houston pitcher to face a batter was worse. Hernandez' blunder was a judgment call; the Culbreth blunder was rulebook ignorance.

Culbreth was suspended two games and the other three crew members fined on Friday. MLB seldom announces umpire discipline but did so Friday in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that they do too discipline the arbiters. In this case, the transparency appears to indicate a light touch; I was thinking before the announcement that a week's suspension for the crew chief, and shorter ones for any of the rest of the crew involved in the decision, would be appropriate.

That the others were fined suggests that none of them realized that they couldn't let Houston manager Bo Porter pull his new pitcher because his Anaheim counterpart had sent up a pinch hitter. That one experienced major league ump can screw this up is astounding; that three others can agree is even worse.

Porter clearly didn't know the rule either, but enforcing the rule book isn't his job. Still, his part in the incident should be embarrassing to him. He's got enough problems with a really bad team without having the umpires angry because he led some of them into a massive blunder.

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