Calling On All Positive Umpire Vibes
“An Umpire is a loner. The
restraints of his trade impose problems not normally endured by
players, coaches, management press and other connected with organized
baseball. He is a friend to none. More often he is considered an
enemy by all around him-including the fans in the stands who threaten
his life.” – San Francisco Chronicle writer Art Rosenbaum.
I have to agree wholeheartedly with the
above quote. It is a very unenviable job to try and portray a equally
measured balance with the bang-bang action and speed of a Major
League Baseball game. An Umpire has to make a vital split-second
decision and have the resolve to stand there like a statute even as
video replays and radio voices echo around him scalding them for
I wanted to originally write a post
exposing the mistakes and errors of last night’s Tampa Bay Rays
versus Toronto Blue Jays match-up, but thought maybe venturing
towards the sunlight instead of the darkness of the job was more
“One of the really wrong theories
about officiating is that a good official is one you never notice.
The Umpire who made that statement was probably a real poor official
who tried to get his paycheck and hide behind his partners and stay
out of trouble his whole life. Control of the ballgame is the
difference between Umpires that show up for the players and
Managers.” - former National League Umpire Bruce Froemming.
More often than not, a MLB game can go
without an Umpire stamping his personality on a contest or providing
their personal agenda by instituting a wobbly strike zone that
changes every inning, or blatantly missing a call, then becoming
wishy-washy for a moment before barking your original judgment.
It is not a job description I could
maintain with any regularity since I do have a temper, and choice
words do spill out of my mouth with regularity. Also the constant
badgering of verbal abuse, even before the First Pitch has been
thrown would wear me down in time. It is a job only those strong in
their convictions, and who love the game without malice can endure.
“Umpires have the toughest job in
baseball. Ever since the birth of boos, they have suffered more abuse
than a washroom wall.” - late Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster
Ernie Harwell in the book “Tuned to Baseball“.
Most MLB Umpires try to put their best
intentions out daily in retrospect to following the rules of this
great game. The majority of those wearing the Umpire’s black uniform
do their best, to bring their integrity and honor within the chalk
lines every night. Some have moments of regret, haste and maybe even
mis-guided motives, but strive to be right in the end.
But then comes a common play within the
scope of the game that is instantly dissected and re-hashed by slow
motion technology to where a split second can be trimmed into
multiple frames to show flaws and a moment of injustice towards a
team. Technology is the enemy of these souls who travel just as much
as the MLB players, but have to remain incognito while the MLB
players are revered when they venture out after games.
“I couldn’t see well enough to play
when I was a boy, so they gave me a special job-they made me an
Umpire“- President Harry S. Truman.
A MLB Umpire main contribution to the
game is to be an enforcer of the rules. Using pre-determined Major
League Baseball guidelines and wordage that has been provided in
black and white then use the human element to constantly fill in the
gray area that comes up in games, then effectively promote a
stabilizing force on the field of fairness and consistency.
With the game getting faster by methods
employed by Umpire crews and MLB, Umpires have to make decisions in
the heat of the moment with no show of remorse or emotion, even if
they know it was a mis-cue. Keeping that stoic character in place is
sometimes more important than correcting the mistake.
“Umpires, you see, have a flashing
button. They don’t like to be shown up. Push that button and you’re
pushing the button on your own ejection seat.” – Jay Johnstone in
Worst thing you can do sometimes is
question a man who is blinded by his own sense of righteousness.
Umpires have a short attention span by their own design. Within
seconds of the end of a play they have to reconfigure their brain for
the next situation, possibility, plus set themselves in a formidable
field position to see the next play unfold with total clarity…. or
hope for that to happen.
Mistakes do happen upon the playing
surface. Things do get missed and sometimes angles muck up the visual
integrity of the situation. Phantom tags, mis-played sweeps of the
bag on a double play and even a moving strike zone are by-products
of a non-perfect game.
How the Umpire reels in these errors in
judgment can be more important than the initial call. But then there
are those who want more electronic /robotic measures put in place to
solidify the equality for both teams. Some have suggested more
evasive measures as machines or superimposed laser grids within
Umpires headgear to bring more stability to signal calling.
“If they did get a machine to replace
us, you know what would happen to it” Why the players would bust it
to pieces every time it ruled against them. They’d clobber it with a
bat.“ -former N.L. Umpire Harry Wendelstadt.
Even with the anticipated addition of
MLB adapting for the 2012 season possible play review options on the
validity of struck balls down the chalk lines, or on whether a ball
was trapped or caught, the decision will still hinge on the Umpire
crew’s honest conception of the play, and then their agreement to
take an additional moment to clarify.
It might be a move in the right
direction, but also might be one loaded with potential land mines as
machines and equipment gain a foothold in taking officiating to
another extreme. We have seen it employed in other sports with a
mixed bag of reviews and questionable applications. Human element and
participation has to be employed within the game to keep both side
honest and within the scope of the guidelines.
I might not agree with their calls.
Might be more inclined to want to rant and rave their directions
instead of agree with them on a nightly basis, but they are a evil
luxury of the game. Nightly as they saunter out of their hidden
Umpire’s Room we hope for equality, integrity and most of all a hint
of humanity. That is until the first close play or borderline
disparagement…then it is game on for the men in black!