Why baseball umps need help from video
Plain Talk By Al Neuharth, USA TODAY Founder

YANKEE STADIUM — The New York Yankees were so clearly superior to the
Minnesota Twins in sweeping them 3-0 in the American League division
playoffs that they didn't need any help. But they got an unfortunate
and unnecessary break from a bad call by a left field umpirein the
11th inning with a 3-3 tie in Game 2.

That raises this point: No matter how many umpires, they still need
video backup help.

Traditionally in regular season games, there are four umpires, one at
each base. But in 1947, then baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler
added two more for playoff and World Series games one each in left and
right field.

The bum call against the Twins was made by left field umpire Phil
Cuzzi. He called foul a hard drive by the Twins' Joe Mauer that
clearly landed a foot or more inside the foul line and should have
been an easy double.

After the game, chief umpire Tim Tschida told reporters there was no
excuse for the blown call. Then he tried to excuse it by explaining
that Cuzzi and other umpires spend so little time calling plays from
the outfield that it's a "little bit foreign" to them.

Baseball now allows video replays only on controversial home runs.
Commissioner Bud Selig told USA TODAY sports columnist Christine
Brennan this week he's against more replays because he doesn't want to
interrupt the "flow" of the game.

That raises the question of which is more important:


•or "fair"?

Selig has been an excellent commissioner for over 11 years. Among
other things, he introduced the popular wild-card playoffs. But he's
wrong on this. He needs to revisit the video replay issue before next
season and change it.






Blown call in Game 4 of ALCS weighs on veteran umpire
There were calls. There were e-mails. There were text messages. And then there were more.

Umpire Tim McClelland said spirits bruised by a missed call Tuesday in Game 4 of the ALCS game between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels were buoyed by messages of support. By mid-day Wednesday, McClelland's telephone surrendered.

"I've already had to recharge it today from everyone checking in," said McClelland, in his 27th season as a major league umpire.

"It's very humbling," he said in an interview with the Des Moines Register. "You don't want to make mistakes. And you certainly don't want to see your mistakes on JumboTron and TV over and over again."

The play happened during the fifth inning of Game 4 in Anaheim, Calif., as McClelland umpired third base. The Yankees' Nick Swisher hit a tapper back to the pitcher and Jorge Posada broke for home. Robinson Cano ran from second base on the play and lingered just short of third as Posada rushed back to the bag. When Angels catcher Mike Napoli reached third base, neither Posada nor Cano were on the bag — and he tagged both. McClelland rightly ruled Posada out, but indicated Cano was safe, though replays showed he was out.

"If you look in USA TODAY, there's a big picture there — and Posada was kind of in my way," McClelland said. "I was trying to look around Posada. I thought (Cano) was on the bag.

"You always try to think, 'Why did I miss that call?' I watched a replay today, and realized Posada got in my way. That's not an excuse to get it wrong — just the reason."

In the time it takes to shower and leave the park, the moment had been immortalized on video shown over and over on Internet sites, ESPN and beyond. Television analyst Tim McCarver barked in disbelief, "This was an easy call."

The moment stirred more discussion about umpire errors in the postseason — which made the situation even more difficult for McClelland to digest.

"I'll live to umpire another day, but I hate to see my profession keep taking hits like it has," he said. "I feel bad for my profession. I feel bad for umpiring. We're a team, to be honest with you. When one guy makes an error, we all feel it. When we lose, we lose as a team."

McClelland refused to blame the increased attention fueled by multi-angled TV coverage.

"We know that's part of the job," he said. "It's 40,000 people in the stands, players on the field and millions watching on TV. We all try to do this job the best we can. We know we're going to be scrutinized."

Another call was debated, as well.

McClelland ruled that Swisher tagged up early on a fly ball and called him out as he attempted to score on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. Replays showed the play as being very close.

"One call was obviously missed," he said. "I still debate the tag-up, though."The play in the fifth inning, however, was vilified by many on the Internet.

McClelland, though, has long been considered one of the best umpires in the game. Major League Baseball players have picked him as the top umpire multiple times, the Dallas Morning News called him "one of the top five umpires in the game" Wednesday and veteran New York Timescolumnist George Vecsey, former Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson and others defended him.

Jackson told reporters after the game that McClelland "is recognized as one of the great umpires. No doubt. He umped when I played. So if one of your best umpires in baseball has a bad night, I do not hold it against him."

Major League Baseball officials asked McClelland to talk with the media briefly after the game.

"I was very uncomfortable with it," he admitted. "I was very hesitant, but after talking to my supervisor — 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."

In the end, the play failed to change the inning or the outcome — as the Yankees won 10-1.

McClelland summarized the day following the game with the succinctness of a "ball" or "strike" call.

"Not fun," he said.

Now McClelland will prepare himself for Game 5, tonight in Anaheim. "That's just part of being a professional. Like a guy who goes 0-for-4 and strands a few runners on base," he said. "I'll go out in Game 5 and try to get every call right — just like I've tried to do for 27 years."

� Copyright 2007 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.



Umpires miss another call in ALCS
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Uh, oh. There was another missed call in Game 5 of the American League championship series.

Umpire Dale Scott ruled that New York's Johnny Damon was out on a hard grounder to Angels first baseman Kendry Morales in third inning of Thursday night's game. TV replays showed Damon was clearly safe on Morales' toss to pitcher John Lackey covering the bag.

Umpires have made several mistakes in the first two rounds of the postseason. Scott also made an errant ruling in Game 4 on a pickoff play.

Damon was clearly frustrated after Scott's latest missed call, and Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and manager Joe Girardi also protested.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




No one is safe from umpires' blown calls
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Never mind that Scott Kazmirpitched for the Los Angeles Angels like he was trying to walk through a minefield in snowshoes, needing 84 pitches for the first four innings.

Never mind that the Angels were in serious trouble Tuesday about the time the game became official – meaning Alex Rodriguez hit his nightly home run.

Never mind the freeway series is looking pretty dead these days – unless by "freeway" you mean the Schuylkill and Cross-Bronx expressways.


Never mind the Angels' pitching fell apart like a sandcastle at high tide.

Never mind that Internet conspiracy buffs have tapes of Mariano Riverasupposedly spitting on the baseball, and this during a flu epidemic.

No, for trials and tribulation and anguish and woe, there was only one place to go in the fourth game of the American League Championship Series.

The poor umpires. The men who need some friends today, not to mention possibly a replay booth.

Game 4 was an umpiring Titanic. A tour de oops.

Come with us to the Yankees fourth inning. Notice that Nick Swisher is on second base.

Kazmir whirls around and fires to second to pick him off.

Safe, says umpire Dale Scott.

Out, say the replays.

But wait.

A moment later, Swisher is at third base. Johnny Damon flies to center. Swisher tags and scores. But the Angels toss the ball to third for an appeal, hoping Swisher left the bag too early. Just like they do in Little League.

Out, says umpire Tim McClelland.

Safe, suggest the replays.

So to review, Swisher should have been out when he was safe and should have been safe when he was out.

But at least, that means everything is even in the end. The game can move on.

Yankees fifth inning. Jorge Posada on third, Robinson Cano on second. Swisher hits a roller in front of the plate.

Posada gets in a rundown and goes back to third. Catcher Mike Napoli chases him and finds a population explosion of Yankees. Posada is there, Cano is there. Two Yanks, one bag.

Except, neither is actually on the bag. So Napoli tags both. It's a double play, apparently, with both outs within about 3 feet of one another.

Safe, McClelland says, as far as Cano. He gets to stay at third, a base he had yet to touch. Third base has become an umpiring Bermuda Triangle.

Even the rally monkey looked ticked off.

None of the mishaps had any effect on the game, other than to highly annoy the Angels, who have enough problems anyway. They're now down 3-1 to the Yankees, after being pounded 10-1.

But the mistakes will be added to the litany of other mishaps this month that have plagued the umpires from home to first to third to the left field line. Their struggles have gone around the horn.

For the men in blue, it has been a black October. No wonder some of them wear masks.

The drumbeat for more use of replay is about to get louder, even as the games go nearly four hours now.

It should be immediately stressed that none of the umpires threw the pitches the Yankees hit so eagerly. The Angels performance was light years worse than the umpires.

Nor should the untidiness detract from the commendable work of one CC Sabathia. He was pitching on three days' rest, wasn't he supposed to be too tired to be throwing a five-hitter over eight innings? The book says modern pitchers can't do this. The book can shut up.

"I don't think it's that big a deal," Sabathia had said Monday. "I think everybody is able to do it."

He can, anyway.

In something of an odd month, it was something of an odd Tuesday. Major League Baseball not only had to clear Rivera of any malfeasance – studying the tape and finding no smoking gun with spit on it – but also defend its umpires.

Not that it mattered. The Yankees took the variables out of Game 4, including the umpiring. Good thing.

� Copyright 2007 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.





'Men in blue' under scrutiny after a series of botched calls
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 Jackson, Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk and Joe Carter are shown time and again, until another name comes along to join them.

This year it could be New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howardor Tim McClelland.


McClelland 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.

Just 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 high definition.

The 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.

"Baseball 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 field.

Phillips 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.

"God forbid if that kept a team out of the World Series," he says.


'I have never seen it as bad'

"That" 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.

They have been such egregious mistakes that umpires have shown up after managers and players at postgame news media sessions to explain themselves.

McClelland's 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.

"I'm 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 calls."

McClelland 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.

Hall 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 him."

But, Jackson added, "I have never seen it as bad as it was tonight."

Besides 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.

Selig, who once was against any use of instant replay, has declined to comment on the recent umpiring.

Rich 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.

Mike 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."

Not surprisingly, players are reluctant to be seen as criticizing umpires.

"Why 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.

"I'm 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.

When told replay showed the mistakes, Swisher smiled and said, "I guess so, if that's what you say."

Michael Weiner, executive director of the players union, says he fields complaints from players about umpiring and routinely discusses them with MLB.

"They've 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."

Umpires don't want to be in the spotlight, either. McClelland says he was uncomfortable addressing the news media.

"But 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."

The debate over replays

Most 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.

Mike 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."

But 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.

That's where tradition and technology butt heads.

"The 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."

What's 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."

Says 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."

A labor issue?

Furor 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?

The 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 umpiring:

•MLB 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.

•In-season 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.

Mistakes "will happen again," Port says, "But we like to think we minimize the chances."

•Developing 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.

But 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.

•The 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.

"It's 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?' "

Port doesn't think a major overhaul is necessary.

"Umpiring is better than ever," he says. "But so is technology."


Playoff errors put baseball umpires under scrutiny

Postseason 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:

The situation The call Did it matter? Aftermath
Game 2, AL Division Series, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins tied 3-3 in the top of the 11th inning. Left-field 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. Yes. 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. Mark Teixeira's home run in the bottom of the 11th won the game for the Yankees, who swept the series 3-0.
Game 3, NL Division Series, Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies tied 5-5 in the top of the ninth. A 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. Yes. 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. "The 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.
Game 1, AL Division Series, Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox. First-base 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. Perhaps. 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. The Angels won 5-0 and went on to sweep the series.
Game 4, AL Championship Series, the Yankees lead the Angels 5-0 in the fifth inning. New 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. No. The Yankees did not score in the fifth inning after the blown call and won 10-1. McClelland, 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."


Contributing: Bob Nightengale; Bryce Miller of The Des Moines Register