West’s bad call shows why base umps should call checked swings
Joe West’s mistake Monday in Detroit was not making the wrong call. The problem was that he failed to ask for help when fairness — the most sacred tenet of umpiring — demanded he do so.
You’ve probably seen the replay by now: With the tying run on deck, West called out Minnesota’s Torii Hunter on a checked swing to end the Tigers’ 4-0 win over the Twins.
There were two problems with that: Hunter didn’t go around, and West never beckoned first-base umpire Kerwin Danley — who had the better angle — to make the definitive ruling on the play. Hunter was justifiably livid.
Before I go further, I’d like to make three things clear:
● Major League Baseball umpires are excellent at what they do, and West is highly respected among his peers.
● West, for all the criticism he receives, generally is good for baseball: He is the most famous umpire in the sport and the sort of colorful character whom history will remember well.
● MLB umpires ought to be praised for their progressiveness toward incorporating instant replay and effective use of technology during the 2014 rollout.
However, Monday’s incident underscored a flaw in baseball’s rules that hasn’t been corrected: Certain umpires (including West) believe stubbornly that they are capable of simultaneously giving their full attention to a pitch’s location and the relationship of a bat’s barrel to an imaginary plane.
Multiple sources — specifically, the laws of physics — tell me that is impossible.
So, MLB and the MLB Players Association should agree on a new rule that transfers jurisdiction on all checked swings from plate umpires to the appropriate base umpires, who are better positioned to make calls. (The umpires union would need to approve any such change.) Ideally, the best practices would have evolved on their own; but if that were realistic in this case, it would have happened by now.
Why have plate umpires kept checked swings within their purview? There are a couple of possible reasons. Tradition is one. Ego is another. But the practice has to stop, for the good of the sport. The status quo is downright nonsensical: Your colleague on the bases is one of the best umpires in the world — a highly trained professional with a six-figure salary, someone with whom you travel the country and share accountability. But when he has the better view of a crucial call, you don’t bother to ask for his input?
What kind of teammate does that make you?
Again: The issue is not the missed call. Missed calls happen, even with instant replay. What bothered me about West’s decision Monday was that the correct call was one humble gesture away. Danley, a major-league umpire for nearly two decades, deserved better. The Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball did, too.