Have umpires been getting worse?
It sure seems like it to some. Whenever any important call was blown over the last two September/October schedules, the Instant Replay discussion has been thrown back into the discourse. While the discussion remains controversial, at the rate with which the pulsating expanse of the anger of seething fanbases across the nation will continue to boil towards an uncontrollable supernova of indignant stadium goers (ready for a "replay!" chant upon command), expansions to the already flimsy MLB replay system seem to be like they're just going to have to break in sometime to stop this cycle.
While I am very much in favor of justifiable and reasonable play review, particularly since I don't understand what the "human element" that replay's opposition seems to cherish so deeply actually adds to the game, I often wonder if the umpires have actually in fact always been this way, and it is only now with sophisticated pitch tracking systems and cameras that can snap images at 500 fps and produce footage that can be slowed down instantaneously that we've actually discovered that they're not as good at their jobs as we thought.
It's always seemed somewhat of a commonality for team homers to be a little bit cantankerous when it comes to the way the umpires treat their team, with often little effort to subdue personal favoritism in favor of comparison between their calling of the other team as well as theirs. This produces a seemingly natural skepticism about the umpire as a competent officiator, easily opening the door for any given bozo on their couch to declare a failing grade.
Those guys in blue, they're all working against us I tells ya!
Look, I don't have any way of knowing if there is a flaw in their system somewhere, whether it be their tutelage, their technique, the repercussions (or lack thereof) from failed officiating. What I really want to know (and discuss today) is why, setting aside the human element which I've already clarified to be an argument I don't understand and therefore cannot instantly dismiss, why are so many people so concerned about this so-called bubble of game delay that is going to emerge.
Games will be five hours long, they say. Well, several people have already come up with several alternatives to solve this problem: limited number of challenges, limited number of situations, etc. But really... why should this be a concern to begin with? That couch potato I mentioned earlier who stamps an F on the umpire's report card... know why they're allowed to do that? Because they've got an entire broadcast team working for a television network whose sole purpose is to provide them with an accurate depiction of the events of a baseball game.
So, my question is simple: if your average sports fan watching from home is given more personnel and technological resources whose very job is to accurately determine the outcome of play than the OFFICIATORS OF THE GAME, can you really expect them to get their calls right with an accuracy rate that's backed up by the television feed you get from FSN or some such? When you watch instant replay at home, you don't have to wander into a back room and wait five minutes for the play to be queued up in a special viewfinder. Why is it assumed that this is the only way to give umpires the same perspective? Now don't get me wrong, I do not consider this enough reason to inherently justify unrestricted (or any) replay. All I'm saying is that it shouldn't be that hard, conceptually or technologically, to communicate the same information we do to fans across the world to the officiators of the game right on the field. I could even joke that the umpires might as well just watch a camera feed from a cozy smoking lounge with cigars and brandy, but I won't, even though I really just did.
On topic links for you today as the two National League Divisional Series continue and the AL gets its travel day:
Ed Price of AOL sizes up the state of the instant replay debate, with quotes from Rays starter James Shields and Rangers manager Ron Washington.
Tom Krasovic, also of AOL, gives a brief note on the Rockies and other NL West teams (and also college football for some reason). Mr. Krasovic does not believe Dan O'Dowd is going to find a way to conveniently retain Jorge De La Rosa.
Amy K. Nelson of ESPN.com gives some interesting info about the MLB player representatives, which include Aaron Harang, Brad Ziegler and Jimmy Rollins, specifically regarding a desire to meet with the umpire representatives during the offseason to discuss these issues that obviously have a great deal of impact on the future of professional baseball.