I have a good friend who was a minor league umpire, so I tend to have a bit more of a sympathetic eye toward their foibles than do others. I see them as human, and I think they're doing the best job they can, most of the time. I don't think the umpires favor teams over other teams, and I think they want to get the call right.
Umpires aren't perfect. And they do make mistakes. Often. Not just the variations that each umpire has with the strike zone (seemingly no umpire calls the same strike zone even though the strike zone is explicitly laid out in the rule book). The inability to correctly call obvious balks is puzzling, as is the inconsistent calling of the in-the-neighborhood call at second base on the double play (it's simple, if the guy's not actually standing on the base with the ball before making the throw to first, it can't be an out).
MLB has partly entered the modern age and has attempted to ease the jobs of the umpire through the use of replay, but they haven't gone on full-on replay use, which means that numerous really easy calls have been missed this season because the umpires are out of position. And umpires missing really easy calls lead to argument after argument between the umps and players, arguments which wouldn't be necessary if replay were used.
When the arguments take place, players and managers do things they often come to regret. Things that can end up getting them fined and then suspended from games. But rarely are umpires fined or suspended. At least not that the fans and players know of, and frankly, isn't it about time that MLB started treating the umpires in the same fashion that they treat players and managers.
Maybe things are finally beginning to change for the better. On Friday afternoon, MLB suspended umpire Bob Davidson for his actions during a Phillies/Astros game last week. The suspension was for his "repeated violations of situation-handling standards," which when translated into English means that it was Bob Davidson who incited the incident and caused Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to go nuts.
This happens constantly, and while, because of my friendship with a former ump I try to see the umpire's side more often than not, it's something that really bugs me. It just seems that there are numerous umpires who think the game's about them. Umpires who seem to go out of the way to start arguments, to show up players and managers. Who do things that would get players and managers not only ejected from games, but would also get them suspended for several games. And perhaps if MLB started giving the same treatment to the umpires that they give to the players and managers, then maybe the quality of the umpiring in each game would improve.
Things really won't improve until MLB starts ridding itself of umpires like Bob Davidson, Bruce Froemming, Joe West and Angel Hernandez. It's not enough to just suspend umpires for causing on-field incidents, they need to be let go and replaced after each season if they can't do the job. There's a whole gang of guys in AAA just waiting for the opportunity to prove they actually know the strike zone, and just like with the players, if the guy on the major league roster can't do the job, then just bring up the guy from the minors.
This is baseball, though. The only way major change will come with treatment of umpires, or with replay, is if an umpire screws up something involving the New York Yankees (replay review for home runs only exists because an umpire screwed up a home run call in a Yankees game). If an umpire treated one of the Yankees like Mike Winters treated Milton Bradley several seasons ago, does one really think that umpire would still be in the league?
Still, the suspension of Davidson for even one game is a good thing. And making it public is that much better because the fans, players and managers know that Davidson is actually being punished for being a jerk, and not just taking an in-season off-day. It just needs to start becoming a more common occurrence because maybe, if Davidson actually misses enough games, MLB will just finally replace him with someone competent. Maybe.
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