MLB umpire Bill Miller missed a couple of calls the other night in the ninth-inning of a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Toronto’s Brett Lawrie was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, and violently throwing his helmet at the feet of umpire Miller.
He was subsequently suspended for four games and fined an undisclosed amount of money. Yet most of the talk is about a call for umpire accountability, again. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of talk about the players responsibility. Although Lawrie apologized, he appealed his suspension and today withdrew his appeal. That is his right.
Apparently, it is okay for a player to step completely out of their mind if an umpire makes a bad call. At least, that’s the implication. I see many media outlets calling for umpire accountability, but few condemning the actions of the player, except for the token “Lawrie was wrong and should be punished, but so should the umpire”
The question is: How does anyone know that umpires are not disciplined or punished? And why does it make the game better if they are done so in public? Baseball doesn’t think it would help matters to single out umpires publicly. I know I am in the minority; in fact it may be a micro-minority. I am okay with that.
The default argument in any discussion about umpiring and accountability of those umpires is “well the main thing is that you get the call right” I am certain I have heard that well over 100 times. The truth is, that’s not really what most fans want.
What they really want is for more calls to go their way. They want their team, or their favorite player to have a competitive advantage. When was the last time you heard fans or media in a collective outrage over a call going their way?
Is Technology The Answer
Some have a suggested that the technology exist and should be used, to insure that every call is correct. Instead of managers and ballplayers complaining to the press about umpiring, you might find them talking about “who set up the lasers “Cyberborg” at home plate tonight, they were really off”.
Greg Maddux won 355 games largely because he could paint the outside corners, or somewhere thereabouts, with Rembrandt like precision. Catchers were able to hold up their mitts, and he was able to throw it to that spot. To be fair, that spot was often the width of a baseball or two off the plate. However, I don’t remember hearing about umpire accountability then. How many games do you think Greg Maddux would’ve won with a robot calling balls and strikes?
Does that also mean, that catchers framing pitches will no longer be necessary? Or, Derek Jeter jack-knifing his torso when a pitch is thrown an inch inside is history? Like many things the intention of those calling for public scrutiny of umpires might be good. The unintended consequences would change the game in ways many of us would not like.
Games would have to be called equally irrespective of location. That means games in Yankee Stadium and Fenway are going have to be called on the up and up with no partiality.
Umpires are Going to Miss Calls
When players fail 7/10 times they are granted elite status in the game. These are your All-Stars, in many cases these are your Hall of Famer’s. And they fail 7/10 times.
Yet when an umpire, according to ESPN research, fails an average of 2/10 times, on calls other than ball and strikes, we are ready to change the way the game has been played for over 100 years. I believe the error ratio is less than that, but the sample size that was used in the report was relatively small. The bottom line is umpires are going to miss calls. They are going to fail. Honestly, statistically speaking they fail less than players do.
There is no doubt that there are MLB umpires who like to interject themselves in the game at every available opportunity. What happens to those guys in the way of discipline I really don’t know. There are probably 57 different union rules that prevent them from being publicly disciplined and frankly really can’t see how it improves the game at all.
Baseball is a game that is played by people, umpired by people and watched by people. I love the simplicity of the game. I love the drama at any given moment of the game. Baseball is not without its issues and problems. However, I love the game unconditionally, the way it’s played right now, warts and all.