Frank Robinson is tired of the constant criticism of umpires. And he has plenty to say on the subject.
Robinson, baseball’s senior vice-president in charge of baseball operations, umpiring and security, mounted a passionate defense of the postseason umpiring Sunday night in an interview with FOXSports.com.
Robinson, a Hall of Fame player and former manager, spoke about the refusal of some umpires to talk with reporters, the increased scrutiny on close calls in the electronic age and the lack of decorum some players and managers display toward umpires in on-field arguments.
Q: In several instances this postseason, umpires have declined to talk to reporters after making controversial calls. Is that policy going to change?
A: It already has. It’s just that we don’t want them to go out there and do a full-blown interview. They’re reacting to questions from a pool reporter and answering the questions that are being asked.
Is everyone answering the way the reporter would like? No. We can’t control what each umpire might say. I’ve been told some of the answers are very short. It’s kind of up to them. We encourage them to talk to the press and they are asked to do so.
Q: When they don’t talk, it creates the impression that they are not accountable.
A: It may gave that impression that they’re not cooperating. They look at the replays of plays in the dressing room right after the game is over. They realize, concede, if they missed a call — or if they got it right — they are called upon to talk to a pool reporter, they are required by me to do so.
Q: Would you prefer them to be more expansive?
A: Of course I would. But as I said, I don’t want them to stand there and have a full-blown conversation about the possibility of a missed call. How many ways can you answer?
Q: There has been a lot of talk about the umpires’ performance this postseason. What has been your impression?
A: Have they missed calls? Of course they’ve missed calls. But overall, I think they’re doing a very fine job.
What people don’t understand is that this is a different era now. This is strictly an electronic era that shows every little wrinkle, every little mistake. The margin of a mistake is minute. And they still complain about the call being missed.
(Robinson then referred to a controversial call in Game 1 of the Braves-Giants series, when umpire Paul Emmel called the Giants’ Buster Posey safe at second on a stolen base. Posey later scored the only run of the game.)
In the old days when people thought umpires were better than they are today . . . if that play had been 10 years ago, there would have been nothing said about it. Believe me. The game would have went on with nothing said about it.
That’s the problem today. (Television) shows every little piece of dirt that you can find in the game. There’s nothing wrong with it. But it creates controversy. It puts undue pressure on the umpires. And they are criticized unfairly.
They’re not missing any more calls than they missed in the past. They are very good umpires. They’re not bad umpires. A lot of people say: “Umpiring is worse now than it used to be.” That’s not true. Umpiring is definitely improved.
Q: It almost sounds, when you talk about the electronic age, that you are making the case for replay.
A: No, no.
Q: People might interpret it that way.
A: That’s what’s being shown. Networks, local TV people, they’re using that. Players are able to see it by running up the tunnel from the dugout. They come back and say, “Hey, it was off,” creating a storm in the dugout, getting the manager all upset, so when the next play comes up he’s going to go out and argue harder because he figures the umpire missed the last play.
When umpires look at a play, they’re looking at in real time. And they’re human beings. And they don’t have the advantage of saying, “Time. Let me think about this. Yeah, it looked like he was out.” They don’t have that. They have to call it now. They call it the way they see it and the way they think it is, and that’s it.
In the meantime, the networks are showing it and showing it and showing it. They freeze it . . .
Q: I know you’re not the commissioner, but this is what people are saying: “You’ve got all these cameras, why not use them?”
A: Let me tell you one thing. If you were going to cover every thing that would be covered in this game with replay, you might as well take (the umpires) off the field.
People are complaining about the strike zone, every little thing about the strike zone. You’re going to have to replace (the umpires) behind home plate with an electronic field. You don’t need the guys in the outfield or on the bases because you can go to replay. If you’re going to do that, totally go to replay, then let the cameras call the game.
Q: You don’t agree with that.
A: No. This is a game that is not pure. The players are not pure and 100 percent correct. Managing isn’t. Coaching isn’t. Fielding isn’t. It’s a game of inches. It’s a game of mistakes. It’s a game of who comes out on top in the end. The better team in the end will come out on top.
You’re seeing more arguing now. In the past, players, managers and coaches didn’t argue that much. I’m not saying we didn’t argue. But we didn’t argue as much as they are now. And we certainly did not use the language that is being used now toward umpires.
They are being vilified personally and nobody would take that under normal circumstances. It would be embarrassing if your wife and your kids heard what some players and some managers are calling or directed toward umpires.