How to Improve Umpiring in MLB without Increased Replay


May 25, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins manager

Ron Gardenhire

(35) argues a call with umpire Joe West in the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This is building upon something I wrote a couple years ago so the references are a bit dated but it seems as relevant now as ever. It seems, more and more, that people are calling for increased replay in Major League baseball. Umpires are probably not missing any more important calls than they ever did, but the increasing availability of video, the presence of high-definition video, and the availability of video highlights to a wider audience via the internet has put a much brighter spotlight on them. There also seems that a few umpires are responding to this increased scrutiny by attempting to assert their dominance over the game and less likely to rely on their fellow umpires to help them make the correct call. For example, to my eyes, I’m seeing more home plate umpires call swinging strikes on check swings rather than asking the first or third base umpire for assistance. Just the other day, I saw two incorrect calls on swinging strikes by home plate umpires within about 30 minutes of watching baseball. A simple appeal to first would have likely negated both of those strike calls.

Rather than increasing the use of replay, I believe I have a solution that would help umpires get more calls right and enable them to work better as a team without singling them out on controversial calls. I would suggest that umpires be REQUIRED to consult all the other umpires on any call contested by a manager. NFL referees consult each other on almost all close calls and more often than not, an incorrect call is reversed prior to replay being needed. If after a consultation, the play is still called incorrectly, ALL the umpires are given an “error” which goes on their statistics which are then used to award postseason assignments. And no single umpire would be responsible for an incorrect call. I understand that each umpire has his own assignment to be watching so all umpires would not be looking the same place when a call is made, but imagine if Phil Cuzzi would have had to consult with the other umpires after his doubly blown call on a Joe Mauer drive into the corner in the 2009 postseason’s Twins/Yankees series. Just forcing Cuzzi to take the extra time to process and explain what he thought he saw probably causes that call to be overturned. He could have walked up to the spot where the ball hit to see the indent it made and that can clearly be seen in every video and photo of the call. And he probably would have realized that with such little foul territory in Yankee Stadium down the lines, there is no way Melky Cabrera could have running full speed when he got to the ball and been in foul territory. Or maybe one of the other umpires saw that Melky Cabrera clearly touched the ball in fair territory or that the ball STILL landed about a foot into fair territory. If he had been forced to discuss with the other umpires, he likely would have realized the physical impossibility of that foul ball call and Mauer would have been awarded a ground-rule double, no replay necessary. And if the other umpires knew that Cuzzi missing that call was going to adversely affect them too, they’d be much more likely to break the code between umpires of not questioning his call even if they know it’s wrong.

Now take Armando Galarraga‘s perfect game that wasn’t a couple years ago. With two outs in the 9th and no runners on, with Galarraga going for a perfect game there is little doubt all the other umpires were watching what happened at first base. At least one of them must have seen that the ball and Galarraga clearly beat the runner to the base. Manager argues and the umps meet. Joyce: “I thought he was out”. Ump 2: “Did Galaragga bobble the throw or miss the base with his foot?”. Joyce: “no – I just thought the runner got there first”. Umpire 2: “the ball beat him by a step.” Joyce: “Yer OUT!”

Everybody wins.

Unfortunately as things are, umpires rarely ever ask for help and even when they do, there is a code between umps not to question a call even if they know it is wrong, unless they are specifically asked for help. And even then, they rarely seem to. And before you say umpire conferences will slow down the game, consider how long manager/umpire arguments usually last. Now if instead of arguing, the manager merely goes out and asks for a review. No need to argue if you’ve got all the umpires together agreeing on a call. Certainly there will still be calls that are incorrect, and a manager will probably still argue on occasion but it sure seems to me like that would be the minority of the time.

What do you think?