2 Sides of a Round Ball: Umpires

Umpires.

At our field, when the umpires enter before the first game, we play the “Imperial March” from Star Wars.  Darth Vader…umpires…they’re one and the same.

I’ve been an umpire.  I started as a high school ump, then called in summer college leagues.  In the mean time, I called whatever summer game I could just to be around the game.  The same principles apply, be it Dixie Youth or MLB.

And, let it be known that I’m against replay in the MLB.  Human error is part of the game.  And, heckling umpires is as much a part of the game as peanuts and crackerjacks.  But, I am not for gross human error…incompetence.

Here’s Why

Several years ago, I was watching a game where the center fielder ran back for a long fly ball.  He ran and ran, tracking it down as it approached the fence.  Time had slowed almost to a stop, and sound was non-existent.  Then, what jarred me back into the present was the simultaneous coming together of center fielder, ball, and outfield fence.  The sound of the player colliding with the wall traveled over 366 feet to jar me back into the game.

As runners rounded the bases, the center fielder lay there on the warning track, dazed, just under the dent in the wall.

We were helpless.  There he lay, semi-concious, and runs were adding up like the national debt.  Mudville had nothing on us that night.

As things settled down, and the opposing team was relishing their new-found lead, the umpire ran out to the center fielder, stood over him, and then gave the signal.

Out.

He raised his fist over his head so that everyone in the stands, over 366 feet away, could see clearly that the outfielder had somehow managed to hang on to the ball.

Our fans, players, and coaches rejoiced.  The final out of the inning.  A heroic, gutsy play by the center fielder.

As the players and umpire came off the field, the umpire was met by the opposing coach.  Irate fans for the opposition were livid with the call.  We, however, were confident that the umpire, who had run to the player and called the out…the only one at the scene of the blessed event over 366 feet away, had made the call correctly.  After all, he was there.  We were much too far away to tell.

And, then, the unimaginable happened.

After a length, animated conversation with the opposing coach, the umpire turned toward the fans and signaled “safe”.

Unbelievable.

To reconstruct the crime scene, consider these facts:

A player makes a play over 366 feet away.

The umpire goes to the player laying on the ground, 366 feet away.

He makes the call…out!

The opposing coach argues.

The call is reversed.

What could have been said that would have convinced an umpire to change a call based on an observation that only he had the privilege of experiencing first-hand.

Still, to this day, unbelievable.

One Side of the Ball: Good Umpires

Not all umpires are bad.  There are some very good umpires, and that’s something you notice immediately.  Clear, crisp, confident, cool in the heat of debate.  Above all, they’re unnoticed.  They ignore remarks from the fans.  They don’t instigate argument and confrontation.  Other than making calls, the attention is on the play and the players.  Not the umpires.  These are the guys that do the job well.  They do it right.

You won’t see pictures or videos of umpires making the good calls.  That’s just the way we are.  But, again, good umpires are unnoticed.

The Other Side of the Ball: Bad Umpires

Not so with bad umpires.  They’re definitely noticed.  Photos, videos, commentary…all directed at mistakes…are readily available.

What makes an umpire bad?

They’re inconsistent.  They consistently make bad calls.  They lack confidence in their calls.  They’re out of position to make the call, period.  The worst ones demand respect they haven’t earned.  They’re grandiose in their control of the game and they want everyone to know they are really in charge here.  We’ve paid $5 to see an umpire…the players are here just to facilitate the show.

You’ve read my story about a bad umpire.  Here are the 10 Worst Calls in history of MLB umpiring.

Here’s a funny one.  Bad umpiring, but funny.

This one happened just this past Wednesday.  The runner was called out.

I remember this one clearly.  The umpire clearly didn’t know his rules. Robinson Cano, #24, was ruled safe.

I’m most heart-broken over this next call.  As a former pitcher and a die-hard baseball fan, I’m aware of the difficulty of pitching a perfect game.  No hits, no runs, no walks, no errors.  Perfect.  Armando Gallaraga had thrown 8.2 innings of perfection when a dribbler was hit to the first baseman.  Gallaraga, covering the bag, recieves the throw for what should have been the final out of the game.

Yep.  The runner is out.  The effects of this event resulted in an impressive display of forgiveness by Gallaraga.  After the game, Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the call, reviewed the play and saw that he made a bad call.  More than that, he denied Gallaraga something that few pitchers in MLB attain.

Joyce admitted publicly his mistake, as well as his regret in costing Gallaraga the perfect game.  He apologized to Gallaraga, MLB, and baseball fans.  This next photo is the pregame meeting for the next day’s game.  While the manager usually brings the line up to the umpires in this meeting, Gallaraga went out, presented the line up, and an emotional Jim Joyce apologized face to face.  Gallaraga harbored no bitterness.

I guess not all bad umpires are…well…bad.

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