x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Major League Baseball umpires under the cosh

Bewilderment from players, officials and MLB at bad calls made by Angel Hernandez and Fieldin Culbreth, writes Gregg Patton.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin is ejected from the game against Cleveland after arguing a call by umpire Angel Hernandez. The A's lost the match to the Indians 4-3 in Ohio. Jason Miller / Getty Images
Oakland manager Bob Melvin is ejected from the game against Cleveland after arguing a call by umpire Angel Hernandez. The A's lost the match to the Indians 4-3 in Ohio. Jason Miller / Getty Images

Sports leagues much prefer that their referees, game officials or umpires stay invisible, as mere props on the stage.

Which is why it was an uncomfortable week for Major League Baseball. Two different umpiring crews made horrendous decisions, resulting in unwanted attention, exactly where the sport hates fans to look.

First was an incredible instant-replay snafu in Cleveland, where it was demonstrated that letting umpires review disputed home-run calls does not mean a correct decision is guaranteed.

Oakland's Adam Rosales hit a two-out, ninth-inning drive against the Indians, the ball striking at the top of the wall and bouncing down to the field.

A homer would have tied the game, but Rosales was told to stop at second base because the ball had not cleared the wall. When the officials went to check the video replay, so did the teams, broadcasters and everyone else. What viewers saw, clearly, was that the ball hit a metal rail situated behind the fence for a legal home run, then caromed back onto the field. The viewing umpires believed otherwise.

Explained Angel Hernandez: "It wasn't evident on the TV we had."

That conjured up images of umpires wrapping aluminium foil on rabbit-ear antennas on a 1950s-era, black-and-white Zenith, trying to get a better look.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin, who was ejected when he argued the ruling, said afterwards, "Everybody thought it was a home run except the umpires. Inconclusive - to the only four people in the ballpark. I don't get it. I'm at a loss."

The league office resisted pressure to reverse the error, saying replays are judgement calls that stand final. But MLB did acknowledge the call was "improper". By week's end, several pundits had accused Hernandez of making a personal statement against replay.

Then there was the Houston Astros debacle. Bo Porter, the Astros manager, made a pitching change against Los Angeles Angels, but when Angels manager Mike Scioscia sent up a pinch-hitter, Porter took his reliever out.

The rule clearly states that a relief pitcher must throw to at least one batter unless he is injured while warming up. Instead, Porter convinced crew chief Fieldin Culbreth that the rule had been changed. The umpires permitted another pitcher to enter.

Scioscia was livid, calling it "embarrassing". His team played the game under protest. When the Angels won anyway, the team withdrew their protest. But baseball was not done.

Culbreth was suspended for two games for not knowing the rules, and the other three umpires fined. Joe Torre, the former manager who now works in the MLB office and oversees disciplinary matters, told MLBNetwork, "Umpires are the custodians of the game. They're the people we look up to. Unfortunately, they messed up."

Once was unfortunate. Twice was embarrassing, indeed.

 

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