ANAHEIM, Calif. This is the time of year when the baseball postseason
creates many of the game's most memorable moments. The heroics of Reggie
are shown time and
again, until another name comes along to join them.
year it could be New
York Yankees star Alex
Phillies slugger Ryan
is a 57-year-old Iowan who has spent 27 years in the major leagues, never
hitting a home run or throwing a pitch. He is an umpire, the latest to miss a
call in a playoff game in a string of embarrassing gaffes by the "men in
blue." Obvious umpiring mistakes this month could wind up dramatically
affecting America's most tradition-bound sport from an increased use of
video replays to verify calls to older umpires being targeted in a brewing labor
war between Major League Baseball and its umpires.
as video has preserved many of baseball's most iconic moments, it's also showing
that umpires are, well, human. Games broadcast on television, sports highlight
shows and websites are showing, over and over, not just the plays of the game
but also umpires botching calls in slow motion, from multiple angles and in
potential for more bad calls in the World
Series which begins Wednesday with the Philadelphia Phillies playing at
the New York Yankees orLos
Angeles Angels has led to increasing calls for Major League Baseball to
expand its use of video replays, now used only to verify home runs.
could save face by giving the umpires the luxury that everyone else in the world
has: seeing the play again," says Dave Phillips, a former umpire who
advocates baseball expanding the use of replay to verify or correct calls on the
was an umpire for 32 years who periodically worked on the same crew as
McClelland, including in the 1993 World Series. He acknowledges he's concerned
that blown calls might have affected this year's playoffs.
forbid if that kept a team out of the World Series," he says.
have never seen it as bad'
is not only a couple of calls McClelland missed Tuesday in an American
League Championship Series game
in Anaheim won 10-1 by the Yankees, but also a string of fair-or-foul,
safe-or-out and other mistakes caught on camera since the playoffs began more
than two weeks ago.
have been such egregious mistakes that umpires have shown up after managers and
players at postgame news media sessions to explain themselves.
comments were typical after replays showed he missed a second Yankees player
being tagged out when two baserunners ended up near third base and when he later
ruled that New York's Nick
Swisher left third base too
soon trying to score on a fly-ball out.
just out there trying to do my job and do it the best I can," McClelland
said. "And unfortunately there was, by instant replay, two missed
is considered one of the game's best umpires, regularly ranked near the top of
player surveys. He has worked in 15 postseasons, including four World Series.
During his first season in the major leagues in 1983, he was the home-plate
umpire who took away a home run fromGeorge
Brett in the famous
"Pine Tar Incident," ruling that Brett's bat had too much of the
sticky substance on it.
of Famer Reggie Jackson, now a Yankees adviser, told sports reporters after
Tuesday's game that McClelland is "one of the great umpires. So if one of
your best umpires in baseball has a bad night, I do not hold it against
Jackson added, "I have never seen it as bad as it was tonight."
drawing attention away from the players and teams in baseball's showcase events,
the umpiring controversy has created an uncomfortable situation for the sport
and Commissioner Bud
Selig, who has maintained he is adamantly against expanding the replay
system put in place for last year's playoffs to verify home runs calls.
who once was against any use of instant replay, has declined to comment on the
Levin, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of public relations, says
only that "the commissioner is intensely involved" in talking with
umpire management officials.
Port, MLB vice president of umpiring, was at Tuesday's game in Anaheim. He
says umpires "are in a bit of a slump. But there are no excuses. I
understand the frustration. I understand the emotion. It's officiating. You
aspire to perfection, but it's not perfection."
surprisingly, players are reluctant to be seen as criticizing umpires.
dwell on something you can't do anything about?" asked Minnesota
Twins catcher Joe
Mauer, who hit a ball that was erroneously called foul by umpire Phil
Cuzzi in the Twins' AL
Division Series against the Yankees.
not touching that," said Swisher, who on another play Tuesday was ruled
safe when he should have been called out by second-base umpireDale
Scott. The play occurred moments before McClelland's missed call on Swisher.
told replay showed the mistakes, Swisher smiled and said, "I guess so, if
that's what you say."
Weiner, executive director of the players union, says he fields complaints from
players about umpiring and routinely discusses them with MLB.
always taken our input," he says. "The overall view of the players is
that they accept umpires are going to make mistakes. Players respect the jobs
they do, they really do. They understand. This year, I think I've heard more
complaints about (umpires') attitude and effort. That upsets guys."
don't want to be in the spotlight, either. McClelland says he was uncomfortable
addressing the news media.
after talking to my supervisor," he says, "and needing to get that
point across that umpires try to get it right every time I thought it was in
the best interest of baseball."
debate over replays
people in baseball acknowledge the success of the current replay system, which
reviews disputed "boundary calls": whether a possible home run was
fair or foul, over the fence or not. But there is hardly a consensus on
expanding it, although managers are open to discussing the issue.
Scioscia, whose Angels have been helped and hindered by bad calls this
postseason, says, "It should not be expanded.
No room in this game for
instant replay in my opinion."
Minnesota manager Ron
Gardenhire says, "Give
me a headset and give me a red flag and we can fix this stuff," alluding to
the NFL's system of allowing limited coaches' challenges.
where tradition and technology butt heads.
game can be whatever we want it to be," Port says. "There's a
professor in Japan who has invented a robot pitcher and robot batter. I value
the tradition and stability of the game. It's one of the few remaining things
left to people on the field."
happened this postseason can change minds. Yankees manager Joe
Girardi, within a week's time this month, admitted he was coming around to
the manager's challenge idea after initially saying, "I just really think
it breaks the rhythm of the game."
Phillips: "I don't want to hear about breaking the flow of the game. They
don't mind breaking the flow for three-minute commercial breaks. Look, I'm a
purist. I hate the (designated hitter). My e-mail address is NoDH. But we need
to be more proactive. The technology is there. It's not going to go away.
Utilize it to your advantage."
over controversial calls eventually dies down, but the umpires and their union
also face the prospect of negotiating a labor contract with MLB this winter.
Could this year's playoff umpiring further cloud what has been a contentious
relationship for decades?
MLB and World
Umpires Association representatives
will not discuss negotiating strategy. But everything, including the use of
replay, is a bargaining chip in the talks. Some issues in the talks will relate
to performance, other issues to the investment MLB is willing to make in
has increased control over postseason assignments through previous negotiations,
but some limitations remain to ensure the best umpires work the most important
games. Supervisors select umpires based on performance, but umpires cannot work
two consecutive rounds of the playoffs, nor can they work more than two World
Series within three years. This year's World Series umpires will be selected
from the four crews who worked the four first-round Division Series.
training and evaluation have increased in recent years umpires receive a DVD
after every game and regular feedback from on-site supervisors but offseason
work is limited to an annual five-day summit before spring training.
"will happen again," Port says, "But we like to think we minimize
the next generation of umpires is a concern. Most umpires are graduates of
private schools run by former major league umps. Baseball has trumpeted an
academy it established in Compton, Calif., partly in an attempt to attract more
minorities to the profession.
that attraction and the ability to lure quality candidates is limited
because umpires can spend a decade or more in the minor leagues, where pay
ranges from $1,900 to $3,500 a month for a five-month season, waiting for a
major league opening.
lack of openings stems from the MLB umpires not wanting to give up jobs that pay
up to $350,000 a year for seven to eight months of work. That explains why,
among the 68 full-time umpires on the MLB roster, 26 are over 50, five over 60
and only six have less than 10 years' experience. A dozen umpires missed all or
significant parts of this season with injuries, including nine who are over 50.
a perfect Catch-22,"
Port says. "When (McClelland) makes those calls, people say, 'Why don't you
have a younger man in that position?' But I guarantee if we did, the hue and cry
over a mistake would be, 'Why not a more experienced guy out there?' "
doesn't think a major overhaul is necessary.
is better than ever," he says. "But so is technology."
errors put baseball umpires under scrutiny
baseball can magnify umpiring errors, and there have been several this month. At
least three blown calls could have affected a game's outcome, while others have
merely ramped up criticism of umpires:
2, AL Division Series, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins tied 3-3 in
the top of the 11th inning.
umpire Phil Cuzzi rules that Joe Mauer's fly ball to left field is a
foul ball. Replays showed the ball glanced off Yankees left fielder
Melky Cabrera's glove and landed fair before bouncing into the seats.
Mauer later singled, as did the following two Twins. Had Mauer's initial
hit been called a ground-rule double, he would have scored on one of the
subsequent hits. The Twins wound up not scoring in the inning.
Teixeira's home run in the bottom of the 11th won the game for the
Yankees, who swept the series 3-0.
3, NL Division Series, Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies tied
5-5 in the top of the ninth.
ball hit by the Phillies' Chase Utley deflects off his leg while he is
still in the batter's box. It should have been ruled foul, but
home-plate umpire Jerry Meals does not see the ball hit Utley. Utley
also appears to be out at first base but is called safe.
Utley's infield single enabled the go-ahead run to reach third base with
one out. Ryan Howard's sacrifice fly scored Jimmy Rollins with the
go-ahead run for the Phillies.
ball might have caught me," a coy Utley said after the Phillies won
6-5 to take a 2-1 series lead. They won the series 3-1.
1, AL Division Series, Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox.
umpire C.B. Bucknor calls Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick safe on
close plays in the fourth and sixth innings. Replays indicate Boston's
Kevin Youkilis tagged Kendrick out in the fourth and landed on the base
before Kendrick arrived in the sixth.
The missed calls didn't lead to runs scoring, but they did force Boston
ace Jon Lester to throw more pitches. He gave up a game-deciding
three-run homer in the fifth, the inning between the two blown calls.
Angels won 5-0 and went on to sweep the series.
4, AL Championship Series, the Yankees lead the Angels 5-0 in the fifth
York's Jorge Posada, caught in a rundown, and Robinson Cano both
converge on third base. Posada vacates the base for Cano, but Cano does
not touch the base before Angels catcher Mike Napoli tags him.
Third-base umpire Tim McClelland calls Cano safe.
The Yankees did not score in the fifth inning after the blown call and
who had missed another call earlier in the inning, took responsibility.
"I did not see that for whatever reason," he said of Cano's
failure to reach the base. "So obviously there were two missed
calls. I'm just
trying to do my job and do it the best I can."
Bob Nightengale; Bryce Miller of The Des