Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'm Pretty Sure That's Not What It Says In The Rule Book

I try to steer clear of talking about bad umpiring in this space for the most part. Poor officiating is a part of every sport (except maybe golf) and regardless of all the technology that could be installed, incorrect calls are still going to be made. It will always be a part of athletic competition and it's really not worth getting upset about. They aren't going to go back and start games from the point of a umpire's mistake.

That said, what happened in the first inning yesterday is worth bringing up, because it wasn't your typical blown call and as Cliff at Bronx Banter beautifully detailed, it wasn't the only one of the day.

[Most of you know the story, but if you aren't familiar, check out Rob Neyer, River Ave. Blues or Pete Abe.]

First of all, although replays conclusively showed that Jeter was safe, it was an extremely close play. You can't fault Marty Foster for thinking Jeter had been tagged.

[This is as close to a smoking gun as I could get. The video replay all
together is conclusive, but there wasn't really one decisive freezeframe.]

You can, however, fault him for telling Jeter he didn't have to be tagged if the ball beat him to the bag.

[Gotta love the look on Jeter's face here. "Are ya fuckin' kidding me?"]

That part of the story hasn't been officially confirmed, but Crew Chief John Hirschbeck admitted that incorrect calls were made yesterday, didn't deny words to that effect were said and did not make Foster available to the media. Instead, Hirschbeck took the questions.
“The best way I can answer it is to talk to Marty about it. Not here at the ballpark, but if I see him tonight, or if not, we’ll have lunch tomorrow and we’ll discuss it. Getting a play right is one thing, but how you handle it is also important. Nowadays, with the cameras, ESPN and the reporters, I say the media, I actually mean television — it used to be if the ball beat you, you were out, but it isn’t that way anymore. It’s not a reason to call someone out. You have to make a good tag.”
It's admirable of Hirschbeck to insulate one of his guys from the media like this, because especially in New York, it would have been a difficult spot for Foster. It's not the Crew Chief's spot to discipline one of his umpires, so keep that in mind as he tries to downplay the severity of the error. There is nothing that irks me more than an umpire using his own interpretation of the rules.

Having a quirky but consistent strike zone is one thing, but not giving a pitcher a strike because the catcher had to reach across the zone for it another. Missing a bang bang play on the basepaths is okay, but willfully ignoring the rules because of some arbitrary adage ("because the ball beat him...") is a crime of the highest order, in my opinion.

What's the appropriate action here? Suspension? Worse? Something has to be done. Not because of the impact on the game, but for what Foster's bold and foolish proclamation says about his objectivity and trustworthiness as an umpire.

I think a suspension sends an adequate message and will be heard loud and clear by umps. It might not keep them from abiding by their own rules, but it will certainly keep them from telling the players that's what they are doing.

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