It was suggested to me that I not write this article. In fact, last night on the Purple Row Game Wrap thread this exchange took place between myself and community member ES46NE10:
(Edited a bit for clarity)
DC: Doin' a PHI: All Umpires Edition for tomorrow. Still open to suggestions ...
ES46NE10: I don't know if this is a good idea. The last time you wrote a piece about umpires, it hit the fan.
DC: Hasn't it been hitting the fan well before and even well after that?
ES46NE10: I thought the night you posted that we got the Angel Hernandez Cleveland/Oakland call.
DC: It was. It was also the Mariano Rivera @ Rockies RhodeIslandRoxFan pic night.
(In that link: scroll half-way down in the comments section to the giant, screenshot-filled, green-from-being-rec'd-24-times comment from from RIRF.)
DC: I just realized that I did an update later, linked to a bunch of umpire stuff in a Rockpile and then Alfonso Marquez in San Francisco happened (that very day). Do I have the worst super-power ever?
So at the risk that I may indeed have an unfortunate super-power that causes umpiring, and even specifically umpiring in Rockies games, to be sub-par, I present to you an all-umpire edition of Purple Hazed Ideas. I hope this intro was sufficiently brain-numbing for what is about to happen.
Idea #1: The Scarlet Uni
We have been told on numerous occasions that umpires (and really officials of all stripes) go through a rigorous evaluation process and are constantly being given feedback from up high. This process is, of course, completely hidden from public view, as are whatever consequences may (or may not) come the umpires' way.
There are a lot of reasons for this, including the power of the umpires' union, the desire of the league to preserve its image as much as possible, and just a general pervasive feeling among any people who run any sport to constantly project a mantra of absolute fairness for all. Unfortunately, as we know and are constantly reminded, there is a human element and humans make mistakes.
In baseball, mistakes are a huge part of the game. Failing is the most common thing that occurs. For players, failures are dissected in an endless barrage of numbers and box scores. For managers, failures are reflected in wins and losses and are regularly met with the heaviest of consequences; the pink slip.
For umpires, though, it is not this way. An incident occurs, people get mad, if people get mad enough someone apologizes, and we all move on. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we should shame them. At least as much as we do everyone else. This is where the Scarlet Uni comes in.
If and when an umpire receives a negative review, that umpire should wear a bright red uniform for the following game, or maybe even the remainder of the series. The umpire will stand out like a goth kid at a Coldplay concert. He will know that every call he makes is being closely watched (by everyone) and he will be forced to be as focused and even-handed as possible. Wearers of the Scarlet Uni will not be allowed to be crew chiefs, and will be automatically overruled if another umpire deems it necessary.
No more than two Scarlet Uni umpires will be allowed to work any given game. If this is deemed to be too impractical (because crews generally work full series for travel reasons), then it is proof that bad umpiring is widespread and needs to be dealt with. Conversely, if not, it may be evidence that I should shut up.
Unfortunately, the biggest hole in this idea is that it still relies on MLB to properly administer the Scarlet Uni. So, unless we came up with another way of determining who has to wear the Scarlet Uni, it might not prove anything at all. Alas, this is PHI and we truck forward!
If you are wearing the Scarlet Uni, you are not allowed to eject players or managers, though the other umpires can do it on your behalf if things get too belligerent. It will take a while to determine the exact numbers, but you could also use the Scarlet Uni as a public record where at certain points, (the way they do with technical fouls in the NBA) some kind of consequence is automatically incurred.
Maybe the umpire has to miss a game/series or two. Maybe he is sent down to the minors for a while. Perhaps there is a number at which he becomes barred from umpiring in the playoffs. At least we would all know the rules ahead of time and it would play out openly and fairly in the public eye.
I know what some people might be thinking. 'But Drew, putting all this pressure and public scrutiny on umpires might cause them to be even more finicky, panicky, and inconsistent-y.' And to that I would say what people have been saying to athletes and coaches since the invention of professional sports: it's the big leagues; if you can't handle pressure, you're in the wrong line of work. Also, if the umpires don't want all that attention on them, they shouldn't be choreographing signature strikeout calls.
Idea # 2: Fair/Foul auto-review
Later in the aforementioned thread, our own Jordan Freemyer suggested, "should do fair/foul calls like tennis does in/out calls." I had been thinking about something like this and was looking up some information on how tennis actually does it. Halfway through my search, (another of our own) holly96 commented that "they actually tested it last year, and decided it didn't work very well for baseball." This is true.
There are also a number of other problems. How do you determine which base a guy should get in the case of a foul call being reversed to fair? And, as both Holly and the Jayson Stark article point out, these are a small percentage of plays and the focus should be on plays on the bases. I agree with this sentiment and think standard replay on bang-bang plays at bases should have been in place yesterday, but this is PHI, where we aren't saddled with the burden that is fully-formed logical thought.
And, logically speaking, the rarity of such calls doesn't change the fact that baseball games often hinge on a single play. If that play happens to be a missed fair/foul call, the percentages don't really matter much to the team that wasn't dealt a fair deal. If they could somehow figure out a way to get technology to allow the instantaneous, tennis-style, overhead replay, they should be working towards it. If for no other reason than it would be awesome to hear a packed baseball stadium collectively sigh or roar with applause as a dot shows up on either side of the line, on a giant screen in front of 40,000 people.
I hope I have not just committed and epic sin against my beloved Rockies. I don't really believe that I have any power over the events that unfold in the highest level of competitive baseball, unless, of course, something terrible happens with the umpiring today. I would also like to say that this was ultimately meant to be all in good fun and that I don't believe that constantly complaining about umpires is a worthy use of one's time.
I do, however, believe that the very soul of sports is that they are supposed to be fair competition. I doubt I am alone in saying that for me, personally, the worst feeling in all of fandom is the feeling that your team lost because things were unfair.
When you get beat, you tip your cap to the other guys and work to get better for next time. When the rules are administered unfairly, whether on purpose or not, you are robbed the benefits of a meritocracy. A strike for Greg Maddux and Mariano Rivera ought to be a strike for Juan Nicasio.
This kind of meritocracy is where sports' amazing stories come from; it's how Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier, how late-round draft picks like Mike Piazza and Albert Pujols become superstars and it's how, theoretically anyone from anywhere, no matter what they look like or what language they speak, has a chance if they can produce in a fair environment. This is why it is so important that the officials get the calls right. And it is why I will keep pursuing a fairer and more consistently, and transparently, umpired game.
Sorry, no off-topic idea today. Instead you can vote on what your favorite of the year has been so far.