Thursday, July 28, 2011

MLB Must Address Its Umpire Problem

Tuesday night was witness to what will amount to one of the worse calls by any umpire in the history of Major League Baseball. In the 19th inning of a nearly seven hour game between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates, home plate umpire Jerry Meals called Julio Lugo safe at home plate, despite being out by a minimum of three feet. Not only did this ridiculous call cost the Pirates the game, but in the midst of a three team dog fight for the NL Central, it could effectively cost the Pirates a trip to the playoffs.

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Meals' mistaken call has spurned many in Pittsburgh, but it has also had others across the nation cry foul. The two most popular sentiments seem to be a demand for instant replay and a call for Jerry Meal's job. Both of these present quite a slippery slope. First and foremost, instant replay's presence in baseball must be expanded if for no other reason then avoiding situations where games are decided on blown calls. However, the nature by which such expansion is implemented needs considerable thought. In regards to Meals specifically, firing umpires outright for bad calls will lead to major labor disputes if nothing else. Umpires are only human and to be perfectly honest, get the large majority of calls correct.

In my opinion, this situation actually presents Major League Baseball with the opportunity to address an ongoing problem. Umpires need to be held accountable for their actions and that goes much further than blown calls. At this point, Major League Baseball has done nothing more than acknowledge Meals' error. He should be suspended without question and the same goes for other umpires who consistently put themselves before the game.

For too long now there have been several 'bad egg' umpires who often demand the spotlight. The major violators are Joe West and Angel Hernandez, whose short fuses have seen players and managers repeatedly ejected without cause for years now. Whether behind the plate or on the base paths, each has been the aggressor rather than the peacemaker. To a lesser extent, Tim McClelland's slow demeanor at the plate, which nearly always leads to problems should also be addressed.

Major League Baseball should know better than allow these men to take away from their product on the field. Its the players that put fans in the seats and while most fans enjoy a good argument and even the occasional ejection, it must all stay within reason. Major League Baseball must not only put a system in place to protect its players from over aggressive umpiring, but also protect the sanctity of its game. Repeated instances of poor umpiring are getting increasing press coverage and simply addressing it with a set of apologies is no longer going to cut it. Umpires who cost teams games and eject players prematurely must be punished and there is no better time than the present for Major League Baseball to take such action. They should start with Meals..and they should start right now!

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