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Baseball playoffs marked by bad umpiring so far


The baseball postseason enters its third day and already there are definining images: managers angrily climbing the dugout steps to protest a call, managers getting ejected. (Good thing the games are starting earlier for the kiddies.)

On Thursday, one-third of the managers (Ron Gardenhire, above, and Joe Maddon) who were working were ejected for protesting/criticizing calls -- the first time in postseason history that two managers have been ejected on the same day. (The manager who has been ejected more than any other -- Atlanta's Bobby Cox -- had a golden opportunity to protest a call in the Braves' game in San Francisco and did not. Weirdsville.)

In one game alone Thursday, home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt missed 31 ball-strike calls. In two other games, umpires missed 21 combined. It got so bad that there was speculation that TBS had turned off the PitchFX graphic after it showed Wendelstedt missing a third strike on a pitch by Minnesota's Carl Pavano to the Yankees' Lance Berkman. Berkman doubled on the next pitch, driving in Jorge Posada and giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead (they won 5-2).

Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire, who has twice been ejected by Wendelstedt, was thumbed for arguing that call and swore that their history was irrelevant.

"It has nothing to do with it," Gardenhire said. "Hunter and I talked and we kind of straightened all our stuff away. I went out to make sure my guys were straight on what we were going to do next and make my side of the story known. I thought the ball was a strike, he didn't call it a strike and I wanted to make sure he knew that."

The first manager ejected Thursday was Maddon, who was angry when first-base umpire Jerry Meals ruled Michael Young held up on a check-swing with two strikes in the fifth. Young hit a three-run homer on the next pitch to give Texas a 5-0 lead. Replays showed Young most likely did not hold up. Maddon, who went to the mound to talk to reliever Chad Qualls, yelled across the field at Meals and was ejected by plate umpire Jim Wolf.

"It's really hard to yell from the dugout," Maddon said afterward. "No one can hear you. I had to go out to the mound to make my point."

Another call was blown in the final game of the day when the San Francisco Giants scored the only run Tim Lincecum needed when Buster Posey was ruled safe on a steal (his career first) of second base.

Manager Bobby Cox didn't argue the call. "From the dugout you can't see anything and i didn't see a reaction," Cox explained (not that that has stopped him before).

"I guess it's a good thing we don't have instant replay right now," Posey said.

On the first day of the playoffs, right field umpire Chris Guccione ruled that Yankees right fielder Greg Golson trapped the ball on a catch of a sinking line drive by Delmon Young.

But enough about the botchedness of the calls. How do you fix it? No one wants to see the game slowed down any further and heaven forbid balls and strikes be subjected to instant replay. Baseball swears that umps are selected on merit, so maybe the answer lies in better training. Or do we all just need to admit that these are the breaks of the game, at least as long as humans are involved in it.

By Cindy Boren  | October 8, 2010; 8:45 AM ET
Categories:  MLB  
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Next: Secretariat: real-life footage is going to be awfully hard to beat


Clearly,Major League Baseball needs to start using instant replay for out/safe calls and fair/foul calls. They already use it on home runs and it doesn't take that long to decide. But they shouldn't even consider using it for balls & strike calls including check swings. Those are judgment calls that are not as clear cut as the other types of plays because they are subject to interpretation. Much like the holding call in football. Plus camera angles might make it more problematic on those type of calls. Once a missed call goes against the Yankees and they lose a playoff game because of it, instant replay will happen.

Posted by: willypops | October 8, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Before I leave this earth, just once I hope to be able to see a manager or player start choking one of these umps after making one of these terrible calls. Don't want to see anyone get hurt, but just a friendly little choke would do just fine.

Posted by: state82 | October 8, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure the powers that be at MLB will be on the replay case just as fast as they were regarding performance enhancing drugs.

Posted by: floucka | October 8, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

The "check swing" rule is, next to the infield fly rule, the most misunderstood rule in all of baseball. By rule the decision turns on whether, in the umpire's judgment, the batter "offered at" the pitch. That's all. There's simply no objective basis to dispute a check swing call, because it's completely subjective.

Posted by: TomServo | October 8, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Within 3 seconds after a pitch or play, tv viewers can see a slow-motion replay clearing showing exactly what actually happened; within 6 seconds after a pitch or play, the entire audience knows. For baseball and football to have procedures which take 3-8 minutes to look at a replay and make the right call is ridiculous. Put a man in a booth with access to all tv angles; he is in direct communication with on-field umps/refs; the correct call is communicated to them within 10-15 seconds of the play. Problem solved.

Posted by: mr_bill_10 | October 8, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

It has been disappointing........challenge with relying on training as a solution is that these same guys conduct the training and operate in a closed shop. Heaven forbid we privatize and get competitive professional umpires.

Posted by: sealockg | October 8, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I have to admit that the pitch to Berkman looked pretty good (and I'm a Yanks fan), however I'm not convinced it was a "bad" call because Wendelstedt was consistent all night on his strike zone. He was just not calling the inside strike on lefties, both Pettite and Pavano had hit that spot previously and it had been called a ball every time. Professional pitchers should figure out the strike zone for any given game quickly, Pavano did not.

Posted by: ds_kelly | October 8, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Two things:

1.) You didn't have all these camera angles and you especially didn't have the PitchFX graphic in years past. This (missed balls and strikes) has been going on forever in baseball. It's called having human beings ump. Ever watch Glavine/Maddux/Smoltz pitch in their heyday?? Those guys were 8 inches off the plate getting strike calls. How do you think they did so well.

2.) Funny all the folks are upset by the trap being called on the Yankees outfielder Golson. Where was all the outrage from the media last year when Joe Maurer hit a double down the left field line that was nearly 2 feet fair and the ump said foul ball. That totally changed the outcome of that series. But morons like the scrawny NY Mike on Mike and Mike, don't ever mention that because that would've went against the Yunks.

This is all about you media guys tryinmg to drum up stories. Calls have gone for and against my team but in the end it's just baseball..

Posted by: Dog-1 | October 8, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Here's two ideas: give each manager a red flag as in the NFL and allow them to challenge ONE call a game, whether they win or lose the challenge (basically, anything but balls and strikes). This would limit the delays caused by replays. The second idea is to return to the old American League way of umpiring the plate: put the umpire directly behind the catcher ( not to the left, not to the right) and train ALL umpires that the strike zone is already defined in the rule book and is not subject to individual interpretation. Period.

Posted by: Lazarus11 | October 8, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

AM to the umps calling balls & strikes according to the rule book.Make the umps stand right over the center of the plate .Its bs that each ump has his/her own strike zone, not have his head over by the batters box & the batters & pitchers have to adapt; bullcr-p; call according to the rule book or ship out. MLB SHOULD NOT PUT UP WITH THESE ARROGANT,EGOTISTICAL idiots & their union.Call per the book or go back to Little League where you belong. For some reason these guys think people attending the games came to see them & their showy, flashy strike out calls.(and their mantra is;" don't you dare show me up". Make them as accountable for their mistakes as the ball players, managers.etc i.e. fines, suspensions, demotions.

Posted by: mikee1940 | October 8, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

*** No, I don't want to see the game slowed down any more than it already is -- with batters stepping out of the box after EVERY pitch, pitchers wandering around the mound, etc -- but missed calls are ruining the game.

I don't wish to see balls and strikes reviewed -- or all games will be 6-7 hours long -- but reviewing, for instance, the call on the "steal" of second base by Buster Posey MUST be. Clearly, he was out (and I'm rooting for S.F., even though I'm from the East coast). Furthermore, did you see how Omar Infante played ole (as spoken by the bullfighter) with the ball that was hit passed him during the play when Posey scored. It's truly amazing to me that the official scorer didn't give Infante an "E" (for error) on that play: Simply, the playing (easily playable) went right under his glove. Folks, are we seeing the problem more clearly now?

Every umpire has a different "strike/ball" zone, and baseball has accepted that for longer than I've been a rabid baseball fan.

But out is out, safe is safe, fair is fair, and foul is foul. Baseball MUST endeavor to get these calls correct or the game's integrity will be ruined forever. Ever hear of the basketball referee who succumbed to betting and cheating on basketball games?***

Posted by: CruiseBoy | October 8, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

The steal in the Braves game was especially egregious since the umpire had such poor positioning.

What struck me was that at the time of the play, none of the announcers even saw the play or commented on it until many innings later. I could see that the tag was high but appeared at regular speed to be an out. Slo-mo the play was not very close at all.

Posted by: puttforever | October 8, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

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