New York Daily News
2009 ALCS Umpire state is sad
GAME 1 Selig must make right call and clean up rating game
With the postseason producing more amorphous strike zones and horrendous, potentially game-changing blown calls by the umpires, it is no surprise to be hearing renewed cries for expanded instant replay. Bud Selig remains adamantly opposed to stopping the games to review anything more than fair or foul home run calls, but the good commissioner continues to ignore the real problem, which is the deteriorating quality of umpiring.
When baseball seemingly regained control of the umpires in the aftermath of ump union chief Richie Phillips’ disastrous mass resignation strategy in 1999, it was believed the reorganization of the umpires under control of the commissioner’s office would bring about needed reforms in respect to training, evaluation, accountability and development.
Sadly, under Selig’s appointed baseball operations chief, Jimmie Lee Solomon, all the same detriments to top quality officiating that existed when the feisty Phillips seemingly wielded an iron fist over the owners are even worse. “Jimmie Lee Solomon doesn’t know anything about umpiring or how to fix the problems,” one longtime umpire told me. “There’s no teaching to speak of, especially in the minor leagues. The selection of umpires for the postseason, which was supposed to be on merit, continues to be political, and there are at least a half-dozen umpires or more who don’t belong in the major leagues but continue to stay up there. It’s a joke. They promote umpires to supervisors now as a means of getting them off the field.”
The latter statement, no doubt, was in reference to Bruce Froemming, one of the most popular personalities in the game who, a few years ago, broke Hall of Famer Bill Klem’s record for most games umpired in the majors. During the latter years of his career, however, Froemming was consistently one of the lowest-rated umpires because of his girth and accompanying immobility and, as such, was denied any postseason assignments.
But when he was also passed over for an assignment at the 2002 All-Star Game in his hometown of Milwaukee, he vowed to continue working to spite MLB.
Only when given the incentive of a supervisor’s job did Froemming finally retire. And therein lies the root of the deteriorating quality of umpiring in the major leagues. Just as it was when Phillips was preserving his umpires’ jobs like Supreme Court justices, there is no incentive for anyone to go into umpiring because of the work conditions in the minor leagues and the fact that there are so few openings in the majors where no one is ever demoted and few retire until they are physically unable to work.
Continually low-rated umpires like Bob Davidson, C.B. Bucknor, Hunter Wendelstedt and Phil Cuzzi (who blew the call on Joe Mauer’s would-be double off Melky Cabrera’s glove in left field in Game 2 of the ALDS despite being right in front of the play) remain in the big leagues while others like 33-year vet Ed Montague and 30-year vet Derryl Cousins hang on as Froemming did. “Maybe what’s needed to get these guys to retire is a reverse pension in which it decreases each year a guy works after reaching a certain maximum,” a former major league official said. This season a total of 16 umpires went on the disabled list. Meanwhile, it is a disgrace what umpires at the minor league level are paid — $1,900 a month at the Rookie League level to $3,200 a month at Triple-A. That’s $16,000 top pay for five months of work. What is it they say? You get what you pay for.
With Selig so concerned about his legacy these days, this is one area where he really
Bcould make a difference for the betterment — and integrity — of baseball by overhauling the entire umpire operation, starting with appointing an experienced baseball man to oversee all the aspects of it. aseball needs to do a much better job of supervising, teaching and developing its umpires, and supervising jobs shouldn’t be golden parachutes. More teachers and better pay are needed at the minor league level and there ought to be mechanism in place in which umpires, like players, can be demoted if their performance continually doesn’t measure up.
Otherwise, what’s the purpose of rating them?