In a farcical display of a complete lack of self-awareness, the World Umpires Association, a union that represents MLB’s officials, announced today that they have had enough. Moving forward, MLB umpires will be wearing white armbands as a symbol of protest aimed at the “escalating attacks” against them.
The past week has included several such “attacks,” most notably the vitriolic (and quite frankly hilarious) exchange between Ian Kinsler and Angel Hernandez on Wednesday at
Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX. After arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez, the Tigers’ second baseman (and a Mizzou graduate) was ejected, which led to a tirade including Kinsler telling Hernandez “you’re f***ing terrible at you’re job.”
Following the game, Kinsler was asked for more on why he lashed out at Hernandez. He replied: “this has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job. He really does. I’m not mad at him. He just needs to go away.”
Kinsler continued: “when it becomes blatant like this, there is a problem… what is he doing on the field? What is he doing out there? It’s pretty obvious he needs to stop ruining baseball games.”
Another incident occurred in Wednesday night’s game between the Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. After numerous questionable calls by home plate umpire Chris Segal, tensions boiled to a climax when Segal called time at a critical moment… for himself. As Cardinals’ reliever John Brebbia was winding up to throw a major pitch, Segal stopped the game without warning. Matheny rushed to home plate to have words with Segal, for which he was ejected. Among Mike’s comments to Segal were the words: “it’s not your show, man. Nobody’s here to watch you.” Matheny later added: “the umpire doesn’t need to have a break… first I’ve ever heard of it. That’s what pushed me over the edge.”
With these two events, and undoubtedly others, fresh in the minds of the umpires, their union decided enough was enough. They are now arranging a protest, wearing these armbands until MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred takes action.
In their statement, the umpires said: “The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.”
The next paragraph argued further: “Major League umpires hold themselves to high standards. We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day.”
The problem with this statement is that it isn’t remotely true. MLB Umpires have no accountability whatsoever at any game. They are never forced to face the media after a poor game, nor are umpire’s performances graded over time and reprimanded.
We know this, among other reasons, because Angel Hernandez still has a job. Hernandez is a notoriously terrible umpire, whose inconsistency and incorrectness are regular topics of complaint among players. Kinsler’s comments are not the one-day fury of a player with a quick temper. Kinsler is a respected veteran, expressing the frustrations of not only himself but his teammates and fellow players as well.
Similar frustrations are common with Joe West (pictured above, face-to-face with Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon). Ignoring Matheny’s comments, West wants the game to be all about him. He needs it to be his show. And he will not hesitate to go to great lengths to make it so.
The goal is not to single out individual umpires, but rather to decry the idea that umpires are held accountable to any standard as ridiculous. On rare occasion, an umpire will own up to his mistake, as in the infamous case of Jim Joyce, whose wrong call ruined Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. But these moments are far too sporadic.
For the most part, MLB’s Umpires are terrific at what they do. You don’t rise to the highest level of any profession without excelling at it. But this protest is downright laughable. To pretend that the umpires are perfect, and that they are above criticism, is preposterous. Moreover, if baseball players are expected to take every poor call on the chin and play the man, then why should we not expect the officials to do the same when players’ tempers boil over?
The umpires are protected from such expectations by their union and by the League’s commitment to protecting its officials. MLB is not alone in this. Most major sports leagues struggle to walk the line between defending officials from criticism and holding them accountable for poor performance. But that is no excuse for the officials themselves to be above reproach. If the umpires are waiting for Manfred to respond, perhaps he should do so by making a clear statement that umpires are not above the law, and that they are going to be held responsible for poor decisions. While that action is unlikely, it would be an appropriate response to the Umpire’s ridiculous display. Once again, Matheny’s words ring true: this isn’t their show.