Three Strikes and The Fix is Out

June 28, 2009

You watch it every game- a pitch is 3-4 inches off the plate, called a strike, or a beautiful curve ball 4 inches above the knees for strike three to end the inning, but the umpire calls it “low” for a ball. A perfect pitch, called a ball. Followed, with bases loaded, by a belt high fastball for an extra base hit. “The umpire is human,” he’s expected to miss a few calls.

You hear it every game, either “this umpire has a liberal strike zone” or “you have to earn your strikes with this guy” or “at least he’s calling it the same for both sides” or “he’s been calling it this way for the whole game.” Ironically, perhaps the scariest comment, however, is “he calls a classic strike zone; he’s probably the best umpire behind the plate in all of baseball.” Apparently Angel Hernandez must be the best because he seems to be the only umpire in Major League Baseball that observes the strike zone.

Admittedly, the human mistakes, the pitchers taking advantage (just having the talent to do so) of the umpire’s weakness is just part of the indelible drama in baseball. There is a problem, however, to add to the multiple sins of omission in our “national pastime.” There has been no accountability in baseball, from steroid and HGH use to interference by favored owners and the Commissioner in blockbuster deals, to the umpires’ union’s utter disdain for the integrity of the game. By not allowing the best umpires to officiate two World Series in a row, they allowed clearly inferior, unqualified umpires to oversee last year’s World Series.

A worse fact is that the umpires clearly “fixed” the series for some reason in favor of the Phillies who probably didn’t even need “the fix.” Not only did they have two blatantly separate strike zones, amply illustrated by Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, but they made obviously incompetent calls in every game and apparently were not well versed in the very rules of baseball.

Whether the umpires were insulted by the “whining” of Scott Kazmir about the tight strike zone or paid by some outside party to influence the game is not even a major issue. Why they fixed the games is not of major concern here, but the fact that they did so, and that there were no repercussions is truly sad. The media, of course, is afraid to investigate; Commissioner Selig was not asked about it and will not be asked. The danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg far outweighs the integrity of either sports or the sports media.

Commissioner Selig, inadequate to deal with the unions (players’ or umpires’) could have dealt the Players’ Union a near fatal blow had he gone, early on, to Congress and beseeched them to clean up steroid use in baseball. Donald Fehr might have received the severe sanctions that he so richly deserves and the apparently unimportant integrity of the game might have been preserved. In addition, perhaps Ken Caminiti’s wife would not be a widow or his children without a father. (Why she is not suing the Players’ Union, Donald Fehr and Mr. Selig is beyond me.)

As for the Umpires’ Union, the threat of hand held computers for calling balls and strikes should be enough for umpires to take their job behind the plate much more seriously. It certainly would eliminate the “two strike zones.” And represent the “third strike” for “the fix.”


Donald Fehr, hired to represent the players’ interest and happy to accept huge sums of money for this “privilege,” did not represent the players’ interests or welfare. He interfered with their health and lowered their ethical standards. He became an accessory in the death of Ken Caminiti and contributed to the use of steroids by countless high school athletes and even younger school children.

Bud Selig’s role is more indirect, but the fact that he brags about Baseball’s new “drug policy,” after most of the damage has been done belies his true interest which has always been to “take the easy way out.” He continues to ignore the incompetence and lack of initiative by his umpires, who, like the referees in football under Paul Tagliabue, had no creditability at all. In other words, except for the exaggerated mistakes and rank arrogance of those umpires in the last World Series, one could not tell if they were just grossly incompetent or if “the fix was on.”

Allen Finkelstein, D.O.