MLB

Injuries, rules make umpiring a sore subject

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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Umpiring has become a painful subject for Major League Baseball after the opening round of its postseason. And there is a reason. The quality of the umpiring has taken a hit because at least a dozen umpires, including seven crew chiefs, were left out of postseason assignments this year due to injuries. Big deal? What if the Yankees were without Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Mariano Rivera and a couple other regulars? Would the Dodgers be in the NLCS if they were playing without Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Furcal? What about the Angels being forced to get by without Jered Weaver, Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero? And are the Phillies competitive if they didn't have Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins? Get the picture? While federal laws prohibit Major League Baseball from discussing injuries of employees, FOXsports.com has learned that the sidelined umpires include crew chiefs John Hirschbeck (testicular cancer), Charlie Reliford (back), Jerry Crawford (back), Tim Welke (concussion), Ed Montague (concussion and neck), Gary Darling (ankle and foot) and Rick Reed (stroke). Other umpires who are sidelined by injuries include Kerwin Danley (concussion), Alfonso Marquez (back), Brian Runge (details unknown), Bill Hohn (back) and Ed Hickok (concussion). Several of them did return from the injuries in September, but given their limited time on the field this year they were not included in the list of postseason candidates.

It keeps happening

Kevin Hench looks at the lengthy list of recent disputed calls.
From an experience standpoint, the injured umpires represent eight of 19 umpires with at least 20 years in the big leagues, including Montague, who is the game's senior umpire with 34 years of service, and Crawford, who ranks second with 33 years. Montague has worked more World Series (six) than any active umpire, one more than Crawford, whose 12 LCS assignments rank No. 1 among active umpires. The seven ailing crew chiefs have worked a combined 39 Division Series, 39 LCS, and 21 World Series. That's not an excuse for blown calls, which have created knee-jerk reactions that included calls for expanded use of replays. It is, however, a reason for the umpiring to appear to be lesser than in the past. Major League Baseball has a selection process that is weighted by how the umpires are ranked, but there are restrictions that include the rule that an umpire cannot work the World Series in back-to-back years, a nuance the umpires wanted in the CBA (which expires Dec. 31) so that more umpires are afforded the opportunity of a World Series. Should the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies be prohibited from being in the World Series this year so that other teams can be given an opportunity, even if they haven't earned it with their effort on the field? The postseason is a reward for teams that have excelled, and umpires should be treated with the same respect. Being selected to a postseason umpiring crew should be a reward. Umpires also cannot work consecutive postseason series, meaning an umpire cannot work the LCS and the World Series in the same year. That is supposed designed, by the request of the umpires, to assure that an umpire does not get physically or mentally worn down during the showcase events. As a result, Tim McClelland, generally ranked at the top of the list of umpires, and fellow crew chiefs Gary Cedarstrom and Dale Scott are working LCS games this weekend, but after working the World Series a year ago they cannot be included on the World Series crews this year. That means even with a system based on merit, the six best umpires in baseball do not work the game's premier event because (1) every other year they cannot work the World Series and (2) it's not like baseball can treat the LCS as a secondary event because the ALCS and NLCS do determine the participants in the World Series. And the injuries aggravate the situation. Remove 12 umpires from the pool of 68 full-time big-league umpires, add in the fact that none of the 24 umpires used in the four six-man crews in the Division Series can be among the 12 umpires used for the two six-man League Championship Series, and that means that there are only 20 healthy umpires who aren't a part of the crews for the three post-season series. In other words, only 29 percent of the big-league umpires are healthy and sitting at home during the postseason. It is something that should concern baseball. At a time of the year when it is attempting to determine the season's best team, baseball should be allowed to have the best umpires working the games. In fairness to umpires, they are held accountable for every decision they make. "It is our job to get the call right, not most of the time, but all the time,'' admitted one umpire. It's an impossible expectation, even with a full roster of healthy umpires.
Tagged: Angels, Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Furcal, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, Mark Teixeira, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Andre Ethier, Jered Weaver

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