Holt: MLB umpires: Get. Better.

first_imgI’m not going to dress it up at all, I’m just going to say it: The officiating during this year’s MLB playoffs has sucked beyond belief.While this situation has been building since the postseason started, it came to a head two nights ago in game four of the ALCS. Umpire Tim McClelland became the poster child for the bungling of calls this October with two terrible ones Tuesday.First, McClelland called New York’s Nick Swisher out for leaving early on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. It may have been a makeup call, seeing as Swisher was clearly picked off at second but called safe.But photos and replays show McClelland was looking only at the outfield and had no way of clearly seeing exactly when Swisher left third. He was even standing too close to third to fit both the catch in the outfield and Swisher’s foot in his field of vision.And as if he felt bad for giving the Angels a favor in the fourth inning, McClelland responded in the Yankees’ fifth by inexplicably not giving Halos catcher Mike Napoli a double play after tagging out Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano. McClelland was standing right there and clearly should have been able to see that neither Yankee had a foot on third base when Napoli applied the tags, but only called Posada out.“On the play with Cano and Posada, I thought Cano was on the base,” McClelland said in a postgame press conference. It’s great that he “thought” Cano was on the base, but he clearly should have seen that wasn’t the case.Combine Tuesday night with inconsistent strike zones in various games, and other botched calls like Chase Utley’s groundout against the Rockies, and this postseason has been one of the toughest to watch in recent memory. It’s not even little things that could go either way; Phil Cuzzi was 15 feet from Joe Mauer’s fair-but-called-foul ball in game two of the ALDS. C.B. Bucknor twice called the Angels’ Howie Kendrick safe at first after Boston’s Kevin Youkilis clearly applied tags on him.I understand it is incredibly difficult to be a major league umpire. I myself don’t think I could make a lot of the calls that MLB umps make every night. Most of the time, they’re right. But in the case of the blown calls this postseason? I would have made them correctly with sand in my eyes. Or no eyes. Helen Keller could have made those calls accurately.So in light of these recent events, it’s clearly time for MLB to reassess how it grades and deals with its umpires. Umpires are graded on their performances, but for the most part, face little to no consequences for having a poor night. Otherwise, how can you explain how Bucknor — who was twice voted by the players as the worst ump in baseball in SI polls — still has a job?And the guys working playoff games? They’re supposed to be the cream of the crop, according to an interview that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer this May with Mike Port, the vice president, umpiring, of MLB. An ump has to be recommended to the commissioner and then approved to be on a postseason crew. Was everyone else really that much worse than Cuzzi and Bucknor?Currently, MLB has a “once you’re in, you’re in” policy with their umpires. Port responded to that notion by responding, “Experience is something to be appreciated. I can’t recall in my time in baseball an umpire being sent down for developmental purposes.” In other words, they put a premium on experience rather than accuracy.The way I see it, if an umpire blows a clearly obvious call, he should be fined. I can deal with little things like being wrong about bang-bang plays at first and balls and strikes. But if you really blow it, there should be consequences. Implement a three-strikes-and-you’re-out system that punishes guys who are wrong on a large scale. If you strike out, so to say, then you’re eliminated from working any playoff games.As for the argument to expand the replay system or allow managers to challenge plays football-style, I’m not in favor of that. Baseball is slow enough as it is; we don’t need to take a fiver every inning to see if Ryan Braun really beat the throw to first.While none of the bad calls so far have truly affected the end result of any games, I get the feeling it’s only a matter of time before that happens. It’s bad enough to screw up in a divisional series game or league championship game, but imagine the outcry if something happens in a World Series game? There’s nothing in the current trend that would suggest the officiating will become any better next week when they play for all the marbles.I understand it takes eight years to become an MLB ump and that it’s one of the toughest officiating jobs in pro sports. The guys in blue aren’t always going to be right. But instead of allowing umpires to coast along on past merit, MLB needs to give them a reason to fear for their jobs. Where else can you blatantly screw up at work without repercussions (besides Matt Millen)? When you have guys whose job is simply to be correct, there need to be consequences for being very wrong, especially on the biggest stage.Adam is a junior majoring in journalism. Sick of the horrible umps this postseason? Have your own solution for fixing baseball umpiring? E-mail him at [email protected]last_img

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