Old Umpires: Where Are You?

September 15, 2010

Tonight, as I watched the umpire call “strike three” on the befuddled rookie, I asked myself: “where are the old umpires of my youth?”  The last two strikes, clearly off the plate were not surprising calls for most baseball fans.  Last month, one umpire proudly admitted to calling strikes on pitches off the plate in order to encourage batters to swing, thereby speeding up the game.  Two things have become painfully obvious.  (1) Fans would rather have wider plate and an official change of the strike zone in writing,in the Official Rules of Baseball.  (2) No fan would be foolish enough to play cards with that umpire: he cheats.

In the 2008 World Series, besides the obvious two totally separate strike zones, one for the Phillies, well off the plate, and one for the Rays, six inches by six inches, there were the four or five times in which the umpires did not seem to know the rules of baseball.  These incidents affected both teams equally, that is, they did not conveniently allow a commissioner to cheat- using that favorite excuse employed by Paul Tagliabue: “the officials didn’t know the rule.”-to fix certain games.  No, these umpires really were incompetent!  Thanks to an Umpires’ Union devoid of any sense of pride, the best umpires were not even allowed to officiate in that World Series.  No, every incompetent member of the union must have a chance at destroying the integrity of the game.  Luckily there are enough incompetent umpires to fill every slot in the post season.

Where are you retired umpires?  I have been following Major League Baseball for almost sixty years, since the 1951 World Series.  Yes, occasionally an umpire, in an extra inning game or a 15-14 marathon, would “tank it” and call a few close balls “strikes” to move the game along, but it was rarely done.  Most importantly, however, was the fact that every Little Leaguer and every fan of baseball proudly looked up to the Major League Umpire.  Yes, he would sometimes miss a call, some called a tighter strike zone than others, but we could all assure you that after all those years of umpire schooling, they were the only officials that knew their rules cold!  In basketball, referees had long complained that Commissioner Stern interfered in their work, telling them to officiate differently in different games, favoring superstars, but our umpires were above that sort of thing!

Now, however, the Umpires’ Union, completely out of control, has established its own new standards.  Old standards such as pride, professionalism and basic intelligence have gone by the boards.  The other day I attended a game between the Rays and the Yankees.  The Rays pitcher threw the ball in the direction of Derek Jeter, creating a loud, “sickening,” cracking sound as if the ball had hit either bone or bat.  The ball rolled toward first base as if it had been hit by the bat, but  there stood Jeter stood “writhing” in pain!  The umpire motioned to Jeter to take first base.  A physician, I immediately turned to my buddy and said: “I sure hope that was his bat we heard, because if it hit his arm, obviously it has to be broken!”  As Jeter gleefully and painlessly strolled to first base, everyone knew that the ball had hit the butt of his bat!  Personally, I would have told Jeter that if the ball had hit his arm then he must go the clubhouse for X-rays, but if it had hit his bat, it is a foul ball.  The home plate umpire then joined his three fellow simpletons as they engaged in a half witted conversation in which they questioned whether to change the improper call or keep up the pretense that their colleague was actually qualified to umpire.  They chose the latter course.  Unfortunately, this necessitated the expulsion of Manager Joe Madden who, in his explanation to the umpire, actually made sense of the incident.

Besides the fact that the umpire missed about a third of his calls, the only other thing wrong with the game was the fact that the rule says that if the ball hits the bat, it is not considered a hit batsman.  The umpires colluded and purposely missed the call to save their undeserving colleague embarrassment.    The fact of the matter is that Jeter was caught cheating and just as a spitball pitcher is punished for  cheating, no matter how much we admire his skill, Jeter needs to be punished as well.    A word to the Umpires’ Union: Going through life and your profession stupidly and without pride-is no way to go through life.  “Old Umpires! Where is your voice?”

Allen Finkelstein, D.O.