Umpiring Won’t Change For A Generation

Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, NFL, Players, Politics, Prospects, Stats, Umpires

The two-game suspension of umpire Fielden Culbreth for his inexplicable mistake in the Angels-Astros game is fine. While it’s not much of a deterrent for an umpire to make a gaffe since Culbreth didn’t do it intentionally, it’s a symbol to the fans and the media that MLB is “doing something.”

That umpiring error along with Angel Hernandez’s failure to overrule a missed home run call off the bat of Adam Rosales of the A’s after he saw the replay has again dragged umpiring into the spotlight. Amid the demands for a command central to handle home runs as they do with goals in the NHL and more strict overseeing of the jobs the umps are doing, the fact is that the umpiring culture will not change to a by-the-book methodology for another generation.

Umpiring is ingrained and comes from the ground up. They’re taught by former umps; there’s a brotherhood, a clique, and a learned strategy for “handling” players; and they aren’t entreated to follow the rulebook to the letter, therefore they don’t. Until that changes and an MLB-crafted guideline is created to train and recruit the umpires, there won’t be a monolithic difference in the way the games are called.

We’ve come a long way from Doug Harvey being the only umpire to enforce niggling rules like only one batter being allowed to hover in the on-deck circle at a time; from Harry Wendelstedt enforcing a rarely-if-ever referenced rule that Dick Dietz being hit by a Don Drysdale pitch that would’ve ended Drysdale’s scoreless inning streak was nullified because Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way; from Ed Runge testing young batters with a gigantic strike zone, staring at them to see how they reacted, and telling stars like Mickey Mantle that he’d better straighten out mouthy rookies who dared question him. Now all the games are on television, the umpires are known by face and name, commentary abounds on what “must” be done and how to “fix” the umpiring without some blogger realizing: A) how fast the game is; and B) that the umpires, for the most part, do a very good job, treat the players and the game with respect and are respected in turn.

The problem is that the blown calls are prominently featured as news stories and the demand that umpiring be improved trumps the fact that the majority of games move along without a hitch. When the Hernandez and Culbreth mistakes—as separate and different as they were—happen as rat-a-tat as they did, it exponentially raises the scrutiny on the umps and, by proxy, on MLB’s VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and MLB itself.

Because players are so much more lucratively paid than the umpires it almost takes the tone of a cop stopping a guy in a Porsche for running a stop sign and being subjected to a browbeating as to how much higher the driver’s net worth is than the police officer’s. There’s no justification for the increasing incidences of umpire abuse or for the likes of Curt Schilling to have smashed the QuestTec device because it was altering “his” strike zone. But this is the culture that was built and it’s going to take a long time for it to change.

It starts from the training schools and minor leagues with the conscious decision to shun the oft-heard umpire lament of “my” strike zone; and “my” way of calling a game; and “my” style. You don’t see officials in the NFL making up their own version of the rules as the game goes along because the NFL is harder on their officials and the rules are the rules—there’s no self-aggrandizing interpretation. As the veteran umpires retire and are replaced by younger ones, the structure will change if the younger umps are trained correctly and taught that they have to enforce the rulebook as is and not put their own artistic flair into something that is supposed to be sacrosanct. It won’t be until 20 or 30 years from now that the seeds planted now will have sprouted. Until then this will continue and not much, if anything, can be done about it.

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The Santana No-Hitter From Soup To Nuts

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Let’s go point-by-point on Johan Santana’s no-hitter.

The call at third base.

Umpire Adrian Johnson called Cardinals’ outfielder and former Met Carlos Beltran’s would-be hit foul when it was fair. He blew the call, but it wasn’t as blatant as it’s being made out to be, nor was it the opposite of Jim Joyce’s blown (and gutsy) call from two years ago on Armando Galarraga’s imperfect/perfect game. Joyce called it as he saw it in spite of the situation and not all umpires would’ve done that. Umpires know the circumstances during a game, but their training is such that they’re highly unlikely to openly let it influence a call. It might’ve been subconscious, but we’ll never know one way or the other. Johnson himself probably doesn’t know for sure.

It happens though. One of the best and most respected umpires in history, the late Harry Wendelstedt, preserved Don Drysdale’s consecutive scoreless inning streak by ruling that Dick Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way on a Drysdale pitch that hit him. Drysdale was able to extricate himself from a jam and continued his streak.

It’s possible that Johnson was hoping the ball would be foul to keep the no-hitter intact, but that doesn’t make it a preplanned decision.

As for the idea that it tarnishes Santana’s accomplishment, you can find any instance in baseball and diminish it. Did the 1985 Royals deserve their World Series win after it was helped along by Don Denkinger’s mistake on a Jorge Orta ground out in game 6 as the Cardinals were on the verge of winning the World Series and wound up losing that game and game 7? They won game 7 by a score of 11-0 as Bret Saberhagen pitched a complete game shutout. The Royals won the World Series. It wasn’t handed to them.

Does the blown call ruin Mike Baxter’s catch in the seventh inning? No.

The Cardinals had ample opportunity to break up the no-no after the mistake. They didn’t.

Santana and the Mets earned their moment.

The history of the Mets.

With all the great and very good pitchers that have come and gone from the Mets—Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Nolan RyanDavid Cone, Jerry Koosman, Frank Viola—it’s a testament to the luck involved with pitching a no-hitter. That it was Santana who accomplished the feat sweetens the moment more than if it was done by a journeyman who will never be heard from again.

The pitch count.

This obsession with pitch counts served to leave fans worrying about what Mets’ manager Terry Collins was going to do with Santana as his number rose further than it ever had in his career. A similar instance occurred with the Yankees in 2010 as CC Sabathia reached the eighth inning with a no-hitter against the Rays and after it was broken up, manager Joe Girardi needlessly said he was going to pull Sabathia rather than let him throw too many pitches, no-hitter or not. Sabathia himself was bewildered and it would’ve been interesting to see whether Girardi would actually have done it.

It’s possible that he would have and the only result would’ve been to bolster the assertion that he’s a puppet of management and slave to his ridiculous binder of arbitrary numbers.

Collins was right in leaving Santana in to finish the game. The players support Collins, but that support could’ve been destroyed with one paranoid and silly move in taking his pitcher out as he was going for history. Adrenaline carried Santana past any exhaustion and he appeared to get stronger as the game went along. Collins is the same manager who justified his removal of Jose Reyes from the final game of the season in 2011 after Reyes bunted for a base hit to preserve his batting title. It turned out to be Reyes’s final game as a Met, but Collins didn’t know that then. The club wanted to keep Reyes and Collins basically said after the fact and in response to the criticism that he wasn’t going to ruin his relationship with Reyes for one play in one meaningless game. To be sure an old-school manager like Collins didn’t like what Reyes did, but he let it go for the good of the franchise. He did the same thing with Santana. Whatever happens from now on, happens.

Social media egomania, self-involvement and what “I” would’ve done.

The word “I” is in quotes because I’m not talking about myself.

Twitter became a world of the media inserting themselves into the narrative as to how the Santana no-hitter was affecting them as if we care; as if it matters.

Gonzo journalism worked for Hunter S. Thompson because he innovated it and was good at it. Others are doing it now and doing it poorly. Nobody cares how the Santana achievement affects David Lennon, Bob Klapisch, Howard Megdal, Joel Sherman, Ken Davidoff or anyone else.

But it’s all about me-me-me-me-me-me. It’s ego, arrogance and nothing else.

Yankees’ fans were doing it as well. There was an aura of the maintenance of bullying and “dominance” over the “little brothers”. The tone was “Yeah, have your moment but remember who’s in charge here.”

The Yankees are in charge of nothing and until Mets’ fans and the organization as a whole pushes back against this perception that the Yankees’ money and history is a foundation for such a logically false statement, it’s going to continue.

There were also those who said something along the lines of, “I’d take Santana out because the season is more important than one game.”

It’s not absurd to say that the Mets had to keep an eye on that game and an eye on the rest of the season, but to suggest that it was an no-brainer to pull him is the epitome of the ease of decisionmaking on social media for those who aren’t making the decisions. They’re not the ones who have to face the player in question (Santana), his teammates, the fans and the media after making such a monumental maneuver. The Twitter experts have all the balls in the world sitting nude in front of their computer and expressing what they think they would’ve done but would probably not have had the nerve to do; nor would they ever be in a position to do it, rendering the point moot.

It was a great night for the Mets and any amount of contextualization and obnoxiousness isn’t going to ruin it regardless of how hard the perpetrators try. They have their no-hitter. It’s in the record books as such and it won’t be taken away. Ever.

*NOTE: Those winding up here searching for the naked video clip of a Mets player following the no-hitter, I had embedded it but the content was removed from Youtube due to copyright infringement and I deleted it because the video was no longer viewable.

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