As the 2010 baseball season rolls along, the bad umpiring rolls right along with it. We have seen a number of games decided by bad calls over the years, but this year seems to be the worst ever. A perfect game was lost because of a blown call at first base, a veteran pitcher with 10 balks in his 10+ year career got called for two in five innings and was then ejected for tossing his glove in frustration, and a player was called safe at home on a tag play when the catcher was holding the ball in his bare hand while applying the tag with his empty glove, just to name a few. It seems like every game includes, not just a bad call, but at least one terrible call by the umpiring crew. An ESPN program, “Outside the Lines” did a two week study of every baseball game that took place during the sample period. In the 184 games that made up the study, ESPN analysts concluded that “Of the close plays, 13.9 percent remained too close to call, with 65.7 percent confirmed as correct and 20.4 percent confirmed as incorrect.” Over 20 percent of the time, the umpires were wrong! Other than meteorology, what other profession would allow its employees to be wrong 20 percent of the time? Most employees would be looking for new jobs, but in baseball, nobody gets fired. The questions are: why are so many calls missed? Are the umpires really this bad? There are only two possible conclusions that could be drawn from these numbers, and they are as follows:
1. Yes, Virginia, The Umpires Really Are Terrible:
The obvious answer is that the caliber of umpiring in Major League Baseball has diminished to an all time low. As umpires get paid more, it seems like their talent decreases. Maybe they do not work as hard at their craft. Maybe, some have reached a point where they no longer enjoy their job and therefore, do not put as much effort into their work. Another reason could be that the umpires are feeling so much pressure because of the constant scrutiny with replays and the QuesTec computer system that rates the umpire after each game that they are buckling under the pressure. When a person knows that he is being watched and graded, sometimes he underperforms. The training could also be a factor. If you look back twenty years ago, umpires in Major League Baseball were all older, which makes me believe that they paid their dues in the minors a lot longer before being rewarded with a Major League gig. Now, many of the umpires are baby faced young men, who could not have spent nearly as much time perfecting their craft in lower levels as the umpires of yesteryear did. This will lead to much more learning on the job, which is not acceptable when you are dealing with multimillion dollar businesses that are Major League Baseball teams.
2. Replays Give Us All 20/20 Vision:
The reason that I think makes more sense than the one given above is that we are now fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have equipment that can help us see every single play in super slow motion. The study done by “Outside the Lines” could have never have been done in the past for multiple reasons. First, in the past, it would not be possible to see every game on any given day. You were only afforded the opportunity to see whatever game was on in your area. Secondly, the equipment, which allows us to slow down every close play and then freeze it at any point, maintaining a high definition view throughout the process, is something that was not even remotely possible as recent as five years ago. In the past, because of our lack of video equipment, we assumed the umpires were right when they made their calls, unless the play was so obvious that we could see the error with the naked eye. Now, we run to the replay whenever a play is close. We then watch the replay multiple times, freezing it whenever we want, which gives us a view that no umpire is ever afforded.
The Little League World Series has implemented a challenge system, like that of the National Football League, in which the coach is allowed a certain number of challenges on any play on which he would like to use them. In Major League Baseball, the umpires are allowed to review fare/foul calls only, and they have fought the challenge system, claiming that human error is part of baseball. I disagree. If a challenge system would have given Armando Galarraga his perfect game this year, then it should be here, because he deserved it, and human error should not have been granted the opportunity to take it away from him. If Little League can afford the equipment, then clearly MLB can, so it is time to bite the bullet and institute it. The umpires are wrong far too often, and the replay is never wrong, so the umpires need to swallow their pride and agree to go to whatever lengths it takes in order to guarantee the correct call is made.