Evidently, we have come to a crossroads in professional baseball with regards to the quality of umpiring in the league. It is no secret that the quality of umpiring has declined considerably over the past twenty years. In fact I would have to say that umpiring in Major League Baseball has become nothing short of atrocious, and not just behind home plate, but in the field as well.
Within the past few seasons, a new technology was implemented to monitor an umpire’s performance as he called balls and strikes behind the plate. “QuesTec” as it is known, has had its share of proponents as well as those who have adamantly rejected it and prayed for its demise. To say the least, most umpires despise it when they are subjected to it while calling a game. They tend towards calling a much “tighter” game when they know “Big Brother” is watching. I’ve also noticed that there are more confrontations between managers and umpires when QuesTec is present. It apparently tests the stress and tolerance limits of both sides of the equation.
However, I have always felt that the onset of this technology was brought about simply because the parameters of calling balls and strikes lacked consistency between the two leagues. For years, National League umpires have been accused of having a more lenient or relaxed strike zone. On the other hand, American League umpires are known for their tighter strike zones.
For me personally, the notoriety of umpiring quality was born during the Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, between the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. Don Denkinger, the first base umpire in that game committed one of the greatest umpiring blunders ever in baseball history. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the St. Louis Cardinals were holding on to a 1-0 lead, and were on their way to winning the championship (at that point in the Series they were up 3 games to 2). Borrowing part of the story from the baseball-almanac.com, “Reliever Key Dayley replaced reliever Danny Cox for the Cardinals and worked a scoreless effort going into the bottom of the ninth inning. In a brilliant move, Dick Howser (manager of the Kansas City Royals) sent in Darryl Motley, a right handed pinch-hitter to face the left handed Dayley.
“St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog reacted to Howser’s move by calling in right-hander Todd Worrell from the St. Louis bullpen to replace Dayley. As the chess game continued, Howser countered with Jorge Orta in place of Motley. The lefty responded with a hot grounder towards first baseman Jack Clark who fielded it cleanly and tossed it to Worrell who had run over to cover first base.
“Umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe although everyone else in the park was convinced he had trailed Worrell by a step. Television replays indicated Denkinger was wrong, but the contested runner remained on first. Steve Balboni followed Orta with a textbook pop-out, but Clarke (still upset from the blown call) was unable to field the ball.
“With two runners on base (including pinch-runner Onix Concepcion) Jim Sundberg bunted into a force out at third. As the revolving line-ups continued, Hal McRae stepped to the plate (for Buddy Biancalana) and was intentionally walked after Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter committed a passed ball that advanced all runners. Dane Iorg brought Concepcion home with a single to right followed close behind by Sundberg who avoided Porter’s tag at home and the Royals tied the Series with the 2-1 victory.”
Even thought the Series was now deadlocked at 3 games each, the Cardinals were so devastated by Denkinger’s blunder, that it was no surprise when the Royals handily defeated the Cardinals in Game 7 by a score of 11-0, making the Royals the World Series Champions. In so many words, Denkinger’s terrible call gave the series to the Royals. For months and even years afterwards, Denkinger was getting tons of “hate” mail and even death threats as well.
Recently, Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Colorado Rockies was said to be “actively campaigning” in favor of implementing instant replay in Major League Baseball. Bob Watson, who is vice-president of on-field operations in the commissioner’s office, stated that this stands to be a hot topic at this November’s general managers meetings in Orlando, Florida.
Bear in mind that the player’s association and Bud Selig (the Commissioner of MLB) have to approve this measure for it to become a reality. Selig, in my opinion, has been a lackluster commissioner at best. He has made, or lacked making key decisions during his tenure in office. One of his two biggest mistakes he made involved how the home team for the World Series was decided. As a result, it is no longer done on a rotating basis — whichever league wins the Midsummer Classic (a.k.a. the All-Star Game), they are awarded home-field advantage in the Series.
His second biggest mistake is actually bigger than the first. Instead of doing his job as a Commissioner, he conveniently dragged his feet on the steroids issue, blamed everybody but himself for the problem, and now the federal government is involved in an area it has no business being involved in, namely professional sports. Thanks again, Mr. Commissioner.
Why do I focus on Mr. Selig’s ineptness as commissioner? Because he plays such a huge role in the decision making process of what has the potential of impacting pro baseball like nothing else ever has. He will obviously vote against it since he has been quoted as saying that he didn’t want the human element removed from the game. But what do you do when that human element has become so questionable that it becomes necessary to introduce technology such as QuesTec?
Would it be a surprise to anyone that today’s major league umpires are insulted by the use of QuesTec? How do you think they will react to instant replay reversing one of their decisions on the field? Since the big issues here are credibility and integrity, there is not a doubt in my mind (unfortunately) that Major League Baseball has no choice but to introduce the use of instant replay.
Credibility and integrity is supposed to be the foundation on which umpiring is based. But is this the case any more? Obviously pro football felt it was necessary — so necessary that it has become a permanent fixture in the NFL. It’s also used in professional hockey for the purposes of reviewing whether a goal has truly been scored or not. So the NHL obviously felt the need for reviewing official’s calls. There has even been some clamoring for it to be implemented in the NBA.
And now, one of the NBA’s officials recently came under serious FBI scrutiny because he allegedly made bad calls in order to influence the outcome of the point spread when the game ended. The fact that he had a serious gambling problem did not help him either. I am willing to bet that this will be a serious catalyst for implementing instant replay in the NBA.
Needless to say, I am saddened by the fact that we are faced with this dilemma. Unfortunately, the quality of umpiring has decayed so badly over the past 20+ years that I sure don’t see it improving anytime soon. QuesTec has been a mere sugar coating, or a band aid on the problem. Now, there is no choice but to place quality officiating into the hands of a camera and its operator. On that note Mr. Selig, you are grossly mistaken when you propound that instant replay removes the human element from the game. I don’t see any robots operating those cameras that televise a game, do you?
On a final note, baseball fans everywhere, whether they are at the ball game or watching it on television, are going to be subjected to enduring either a lengthier stay at the ballpark, or having their butts glued to the couch for even longer periods of time than what they’ve been accustomed to. And to make matters worse for television viewers, there will be more commercial breaks to deal with any time the game gets delayed for the reviewing of a questionable call.