Umps’ error in Houston indefensible

Blowing a call on instant replay is one thing. Not knowing the rules is far worse.

That’s the message that baseball sent to the umpires in Thursday night’s fiasco between the Astros and Angels — and the message was entirely appropriate.

Twice in the past two days, the league office needed to release statements saying that umpires’ decisions were incorrect. And yes, baseball evidently considers the actions of crew chief Fieldin Culbreth and his fellow umpires in Houston to be worse than those of Angel Hernandez in Cleveland.

Baseball suspended Culbreth for two games Friday and fined him for a misapplication of rule 3.05 (b). It also fined the other umpires in Culbreth’s crew — Brian O’Nora, Bill Welke and Adrian Johnson.

Hernandez, on the other hand, will not be penalized for failing to recognize — on a high-definition replay — that Adam Rosales’ drive should have been a home run in Wednesday night’s game between the Athletics and Indians.

Hernandez’s mistake was inexplicable — I still can’t figure out why he didn’t see what the rest of us did. Apparently there was disagreement between Hernandez and the other two umpires who viewed the replay — they did not return to the field for more than four minutes, an unusually long period of time.

But in the end, Hernandez was not 100 percent confident that the initial call of a double should be overruled. It was his first instant replay as a crew chief. He made an error in judgment, an honest mistake.

Not knowing the rules — especially one as basic as Rule 3.05 (b) — is inexcusable. And baseball had no choice but to discipline Culbreth and Co., who allowed Astros manager Bo Porter to make a pitching change before his reliever faced a hitter against the Angels on Thursday night.

Porter, too, should be embarrassed, but he’s one man, a new manager — and the Astros’ problem. Clueless umpires are baseball’s problem, and not a small one. How do you trust such umps if you’re a fan? How do you trust them if you’re a player, coach or manager?

The rulebook can be a complex maze, but the rule about a reliever needing to face at least one hitter is pretty clear. Angels manager Mike Scioscia certainly knew it. And to be the best of my lip-reading ability, I believe he referred to the situation as a “________ embarrassment” in his discussions with the umps on Thursday night.

Culbreth did not comment as a matter of policy — Scioscia played the game under protest, and baseball does not allow umpires to discuss protests with the media before discussing them with league officials.

Never mind that the Angels won 6-5, making a follow-up on the protest unnecessary. Baseball needs to address the umpires’ lack of transparency and the inability of some to properly communicate with the media — Hernandez did not handle himself well with a pool reporter on Wednesday night.

Still, these offenses are all relative.

Stumbling with the media is one thing. Blowing a judgment call is another. But not knowing the rules?

Difficult to imagine, but Angel Hernandez is starting to look good.