Rays Get Introduced to the “Wendelstedt Factor”


They were initially designed to be the “enforcers of the rules and regulations of baseball”. Be the facilitators of human error that was needed within the scope of the game to keep it from becoming inherently mechanical and stiff. The flaws and frailties of the human element have made baseball enjoyable to watch, banter about and discuss long before television made their mistakes more visual within seconds.

But in the end, you have to ask yourself why do some Major League Umpires find it necessary to “ jump the shark tank” at times to firmly cross that fine line and make the game their own? At what point do the Umpires have that right to step over that pre-conceived dividing chalk line of being “in the game or around it” that essence that sometimes separates fact from fiction, keeping the integrity of the game intact, or blowing it all out the window.

Most people in Boston today will say I have a case of extreme “sour grapes”, that the Tampa Bay Rays loss to the Red Sox last night was a well fought contest with hills and valleys that the team did not use to their advantage to post a win. I can agree with that, but there might have been another element that most Boston fans have thrown into the darkness of the closet, hoping someone like me will not bring it back out into the daylight. Something stunk in Boston last night, and it wasn’t low tide.

During the course of the game last night an old quote I read by former National League Umpire Bruce Froemming kept popping into my mind as a few questionable calls and strike signals were displayed on tele-illustrators and graphics pertaining to the exploits of last night’s Home Plate Umpire:

One of the really wrong theories about officiating is that a good official is one you never notice. The Umpire who made this statement was probably a 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 who show up for the players and Managers.

Usually when you think of the Rays and an Umpire controversy their top two past adversaries Umpires Joe West and Angel Hernandez come quickly to light. But last night the Rays dastardly duo were nowhere is sight with each hundreds of miles away calling other MLB games. With the above quote in mind, last night a new Rays villain in black emerged on Friday night, and his name is Hunter Wendelstedt. You would think a second generation MLB Umpire would have a more structured approach, a more defined strike zone, a definite want to be “in the game” but not an intricate part of it.

I actually enjoy an animated Home Plate Umpire who throws a little showmanship and bravado into the cool night’s air to provide a hint of excitement and twists to the game, but I have a firm distaste when I see a blatant disregard for a well defined parameter of the strike zone floating back and forth in the wind like a flag during the evening. The integrity of the strike zone is up to individual Umpire’s interpretation and will be compromised at times, but when it floats and is expanded like a balloon filling with hot Umpire air, that is where I draw the line.

I understand that sometimes Umpires make bad judgment calls in the spirit of the game that upon later review have merit for further discussions, but when their errors in judgment can be plastered upon a television matrix system and show an obvious disregard for the defined “box” of a preconceived strike zone that each hitter hopes an Umpire will structure and call with clarity, I have a problem with that.

A great example of this floating strike zone has to be Rays CF B J Upton’s 5th inning plate appearance. I agree that Upton does give a few extra words to Umpires during the game discounting their strike zones or even hoping for a reprieve on a later plate appearance, but when the zone expands to almost touching a player’s uniform and it is called a strike…..something is truly afoot.

In as much time as Upton instantly turned and began to disagree with Wendelstedt after his third strike, quick thinking members of the FSN/SunSports production crew were deciphering and dissecting the “called strike” to show that Wendelstedt did indeed put a lot of his own “English” on the strike zone and the pitch was actually way outside the usual strike zone.

Upton had a perfect right to become agitated and angry with Wendelstedt after it was shown that for that one pitch the strike zone had expanded from its usual 8.5 inches from the center of the plate to 14.5 inches. A called strike that was placed 6 inches outside the usual box led to Upton’s plate barrage. Some might say since Upton had a 3-2 count with Desmond Jennings attempting to steal second base he should have swung at anything within the zone, but 6 inches outside the zone would not have merited even such a thought, even by the usually swing aggressive Upton.

If the contest had been 6-3 or even a blow-out, there would not be this kind of banter by me to the integrity of the moving strike zone. But because it was a tightly constrictive 4-3 contest, a simple walk or even base hit could have made this game’s momentum and conclusion quickly change. Even more upsetting is the simple fact that even with an expanded and bloated strike zone, Rays starter James Shields did not seem to get the same lofty calls.

Gone will be the “Wendelstedt factor” behind the plate as he will be stationed behind Third Base this afternoon. Hopefully Wendelstedt doesn’t have an additional chance or moment to expand the chalk line down that Leftfield line in Fenway Park. I hope Wendelstedt’s father, former Umpire Harry Wendelstedt who patrolled the National Leagues from 1966-1998 has some great “fatherly advice for Hunter. Possibly  something like my own opinion that the MLB strike zone is there as a key, but to abuse it loses not only the key to the lock, but you lose yourself and your own integrity.

2 Comments

I would probably say that Bob Davidson is biggest Ray killer. I haven’t forgotten the ridiculous calls he made that hurt the Rays, especially against Boston (big surprise there). There’s some bad umps out there, but Davidson’s gotta be the worst.
The Rays Rant- http://yossif.mlblogs.com/

Yossif,
I have to disagree with you. Angel Hernandez missed a call at Third Base, then a call down the Third Baseline in Toronto last season that cost the Rays not only a game, but put them in a funk for the rest of the series. Umpires are human, and mistakes happen.
Sometimes I wish Umps could do as Joyce did with his error in judgment in the Galarraga game and admit it, but that would show that erros happen. Even though less actions of these sorts happen in MLB games, some of them define the game and their outcome. For that reason, Wendelstadt get the Goat of the Game award for September 16th.

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