COMMISSIONER FOR A DAY PART 4 – Making the correct calls

February 16, 2010 |

In the first three installments, I have suggested fundamental changes in order to increase parity and competitive balance.  In this installment, I will take a look at umpires and instant replay.  Since a new collective bargaining agreement was reached with World Umpires Association this winter, my changes can’t immediately take effect.  However, I will put as much pressure on them as possible, because all we want is for them to get the calls right.

In today’s world that is full of technology, I’m not sure that I’d want to be an official for any professional or college sport for that matter.   Having every call dissected frame by frame, being able to zoom in and see it, and watching 53 different angles before seeing the one that you can almost say the call was made correctly or incorrectly.  In my opinion, there is nothing worse than the 15 minutes worth of delays during a typical NFL game, due to replays.  Whether it’s a challenge on the field or by the booth, they seem to disrupt the flow of the game.  I’m all about getting the calls right, and for the most part, the men that make the calls, do a pretty good job.  Just think, if we still listened to every sporting event on the radio, the officials would never miss a call.

Baseball instituted instant replay for boundary calls for homeruns 2 seasons ago.  With all of the new stadiums, advertising signs, and fans seated closer to the field, this was something that had to be done.  Doubles need to be doubles, foul balls need to be foul, and homeruns need to be homeruns.  With that, there’s no way I would want to expand the use of replay in baseball.  I’d much rather have the best people in the world umpiring the best baseball players in the world. It’s been that way for over 100 years.

Questec, the balls and strikes rating system was introduced to the umpires and baseball several years ago.  To this day, it’s not in every park, and it’s the first thing that I would mandate.  If you run a business, there are certain things that you want to know about the performance of your employees.  Every company has some way to grade it’s employees and the job that they do.  For home plate umpires, it’s Questec.  Umpires are given reports on their accuracy of calling balls and strikes.  Though not a complete science, it’s a great tool to tell an umpire that he missed 20% of the pitches during a game.  The MLB Rule Book tells us that in basic terms, the strike zone is from the letters to the knees.  Show me an umpire who calls the high and low strike consistently.  Usually, it’s one way or the other, mostly on the low side.  For 2010, I would install the system in every park.  I would use the information provided, and individually grade each umpire over the course of the season, ranking them from the most accurate to the least.  In 2011, I would institute this simple procedure.  I would create a salary for home plate umpires, and one for base umpires.  There are 60 regular umpires (4 for a maximum of 15 games per night).  There are probably an additional 20 umpires for vacations, injuries, emergency leave, ect.  Each crew would have a crew chief as they do now.  He must be one of the top 15 in ball/strike accuracy.  There must be one additional umpire ranked 16 to 30th in ball/strike accuracy on his crew.  The balls and strike umpires will always have the plate or be the 2nd base umpire.  That way, they have the best views of the entire field and can even answer the occasional question from the home plate umpire; “am I missing the low strike?”  These two umpires will be the only two umpires to man the plate.  The other two umpires will be on the bases.  This way, the best balls andstrikes umpires will always be behind the plate.  I will develop instructional and training programs to help the rest of the umpires increase their accuracy.  They even could go “back to the minors” for seasoning.   There’s absolutely no harm in being the best you can be.  When the “Richie Phillips” era ended, more than 20 umpires lost their jobs.  Some of the better ones got them back.  Like players, umpires need to take pride in their work and be the best they can be each and every day.

As far as the base umpiring goes, it’s actually amazing how accurate the umpires are at first base.  They get one look, at full speed, and generally, they get it right.  When you have to slow it down and watch it over and over, who are we to argue whether he was safe or out.  The thing that gets me are these two automatic things:  1) the “in the neighborhood” call at 2nd on a double play, and 2) if the ball beats the runner, “he must be out” call.  I want my umpires to have the courage to get those calls right.  Calls where the shortstop misses the bag by a foot, and the one where the play at the plate is NOT made, because the catcher tug the runner at the waist as his feet, calves, and knees slide safely between the catchers legs can change the outcome of games.  Have the courage to call him safe.  Sure, you’re going to get an argument and someone will get ejected.  But, in the spirit of competition and getting it right, you will be rewarded.  I will develop a grading system and a merit system to again, rank the umpires on getting calls right.  We all saw the debacle this past post season.  The biggest games of the year can not be officiated that way.  The best umpires will be rewarded in salary, recognition, and the postseason.  Umpires that continue to miss calls and fail to improve, will either be demoted or fired. 

I like the fact that umpires  “huddle up” and attempt to get calls right.  It will continue to be encouraged.  However, unlike the Miguel Tejada out call at first by the home plate umpire two seasons ago, umpires will not be allowed to change safe/out calls.  Tim McCleland was the home plate umpire that day, and he always seems to be in the middle of controversy.  I still can’t believe Dave Trembly didn’t get ejected that day.  I would have gone nuts. 

Finally, we need a complete clarification of intent.   When warnings are issued due to a hit batter, umpires need to do a much better job recognizing intent.  Not every hit batter following a beaning was “retaliation”.  Obviously some are, and with the experienced umpires behind the dish, hopefully they will do a better job determining “intent”.  Thanks for reading

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