We're not even a quarter of the way into the 2013 season, and the umpiring across MLB has had its fair share of awful moments. Perhaps the worst part about all of these gaffes is that there isn't really a consistent problem. Of the five gaffes listed below, they're all different and unique in nature. It's not as if strike zones have been egregiously bad all year, or that numerous replay calls have been botched; it's been a little bit of everything across the board.
April 8th. Rays vs Rangers
Umpire: Marty Foster
Player Screwed: Ben Zobrist
The lone ball/strike call on this list is one of the worst I've seen in awhile, because A) it ended the game, and B) the Rays were in a position to put together a rally and take the lead against the Rangers. Foster's strike three call on Ben Zobrist came on a Joe Nathan pitch that was *way* out of the strike zone, and was a call that was so bad that Foster eventually admitted after the game that he probably wouldn't have called that pitch a strike if he had another chance.
April 28th. Rays vs White Sox
Umpire: Tom Hallion
Players Screwed: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson
For a brief recap of Price's Twitter tirade towards Hallion, check out our post on it. But anyway, what happened was that Hallion didn't punch out Dewayne Wise on a clear strike and Price was agitated. He retired Wise on the next pitch, but then Hallion started snapping at Price as he left the field, leading to the ejection of Hellickson when he defended his teammate. Price, Hellickson, and Matt Moore all took to Twitter after the game to defend themselves against Hallion and his denials of the situation, and earned fines in the process.
May 5th. Nationals vs Pirates
Umpire: John Hirschbeck
Player Screwed: Bryce Harper
Everyone loves to hate on Bryce Harper because of a preconceived notion that he's a whiny diva or something along those lines, but his ejection by John Hirschbeck last weekend was a joke. Hirschbeck called Harper out on a check swing that looked borderline (to put it mildly), but that's not the real controversy surrounding this situation. After calling Harper out, Hirschbeck essentially made himself the center of attention before ejecting Harper, who had barely even injected himself into the controversy. Umpires really think fans are coming to the game to see them, right?
May 8th. Athletics vs Indians
Umpire: Angel Hernandez
Player Screwed: Adam Rosales
This is the worst "call" on the list by far. Rosales hit what would have been a game-tying home run in the ninth inning, but it was called a double on the field. Cool, that's what instant replay is for. The umpires checked out the replay and kept looking...and kept looking...and kept looking...and eventually decided that Rosales' double would stand instead of being called a home run, despite numerous replays shown on both the home and away broadcasts showing that the ball clearly was a home run. To add insult to injury, crew chief Angel Hernandez then didn't allow his responses to reporters' questions after the game to be recorded. He clearly was comfortable with his bad decision.
May 9th. Angels vs Astros
Umpire: Fieldin Culbreth
Player Screwed: Scott Cousins, but really, all of the Angels.
The umpires in this situation didn't know a rule. THEY DIDN'T KNOW A RULE. Crew chief Fieldin Culbreth was the one who got the largest punishment of the crew (a two game suspension and a fine), but the rest of his crew didn't exactly speak up and realize that a pitcher needs to face at least one batter if he's brought in for the middle of an inning. The Angels played the game under protest (which I think would have been upheld, mind you), but eventually ended up dropping that protest when they won the game. It's pretty inexcusable for a crew to not know the rules of the game, but that's what happened here.
Perhaps the worst part about all of these calls is that none of these umpires are new kids to the block that haven't had much experience under the bright lights of an MLB stadium. Foster is the least experienced of the five umpires profiled in these five calls, and he's been a major league umpire since 1999. To put that in perspective, the only players to receive votes in the 1999 MVP voting that have played at all this season are Jason Giambi and Mariano Rivera (with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the DL). Hell, only three of the 15 players to receive Rookie of the Year votes in 1999 are still active (Carlos Beltran, Freddy Garcia, Tim Hudson). These umpires aren't fresh faces like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Starling Marte, Manny Machado, and so on and so forth. These are long-time, experienced umpires, and their flubs this season have been brutal.
I'm sure this won't be the last we're going to hear of the umpires this season, however. We've still got over 75% of the year left.
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In a Mariners/Rangers game, Mariners catcher Jesus Sucre was called out at first on the back end of a double play when the Rangers' first baseman didn't even catch the ball (and even if he had, his foot visibly came off the base).
So - first, all of these are pretty bad. But the last two are by far the worst. The first three have some extenuating circumstances that - while the calls look pretty brutal on he surface - the ejections could have been avoided.
The first rule of baseball is - don't show up the umpire. Now, I agree that at times the umpires act as if they're the game, but in general - the best policy is to avoid ejection by not making a scene. The second rule is you don't argue balls and strikes.
In the first example, Zobrist tossed the bat before the umpire made the call. It was obvious it was a ball, and the umpire took a bit long to make the call. Usually you'll see this when the pitch is borderline and the batter tries to make the call for the umpire, and 7 times out of 10 they'll call this a strike to spite the batter because the batter tried to show up the umpire, and it's close enough no one cares. Horrible, botched call, horrible way to end the game - but just effin' wait until the umpire makes the call....
Price/Hellickson - whichever got tossed - got tossed because they argued a borderline strike call. Contrary to what the announcers said, that pitch was on the corner, probably over the black (which incidentally is NOT part of home plate and technically is not a strike) - NOT an obvious strike. To make matters worse, the catcher clearly pulled the ball in so it looked like more of a strike. Border line pitch - especially where the umpire notices the catcher trying to frame the ball ... that WILL get called a ball. The issue was, Price started acting like a diva on the mound, then after the play one pitch later, AND walking off the field. The umpire probably should have let it go and not come up the baseline, but Price shouldn't have shown the umpire up, either. Apparently, though, it was Hellickson - who isn't even involved in the game - who started jawing, too. And that will get you tossed as well. The weakest "blown call" of the bunch.
The Harper one is LESS of a mixed bag. The pitch WAS a strike, and the camera work sucks, so we don't have any sort of angle. But - and I was a little shocked to learn this - there is no rule governing a check swing; it is purely at the umpire's discretion as to whether the batter offers at the pitch or not. All this "breaking wrists," "bat head going past the plate" ... things umpire's have used to help make the call, but not in the rules. IT IS COMPLETELY AT THE UMPIRE'S DISCRETION.
Hirschbeck (remember this guy from the Roberto Alomar spitting incident?) has a habit of making himself a part of the game (going on 20 years). But that strike is an opinion call. And Harper - who has been in the league for all of a year, even if he is a phenom - says something or does something (which is not out of character for Harper) that Hirschbeck immediately is like - what's your problem? And starts jawing at him. Not necessary by Hirschbeck, but he does this crap all the time. The home plate umpire comes out and says something to Harper. Apparently the third base coach comes out and assuages Hirschbeck, (which is ridiculous), turns and tells Harper to drop it off while running off the field; the situation seems diffused, Hirschbeck walks back to position - and apparently Harper says something again. It's also important to note - it's the third out in the top of the first, and apparently Harper never leaves the plate area. He's not jogging up the first base line to his position; Hirschbeck's eyes never leave the plate area. THAT's when he tosses him. Again, Harper is arguing a called third strike - and showing up the umpire. And when you're a one year player (phenom or not) and you're talking about a 20 year umpiring vet - you will get tossed. Not a bad call at all....
Balls and strikes have routinely been brutal from the first game of the season. (On TV I watch both the Giants and the A's.)
@Topazinator And you can't argue balls and strikes.... But the umpires clearly botched that HR call - and the substitution....