USA TODAY International Edition
Despite glaring goofs, umps deserve respect, but no instant replay
HOUSTON — Seldom has there been a postseason with so many disputed, if not questionable, calls by umpires.
I am vehemently opposed to instant replay for baseball. The human element makes the game more intriguing. If there were instant replay, I wouldn’t be talking about umpires. Nor would all the fans, secondguessers, et al.
For openers, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have enormous respect for umpires.
Admittedly, they’ve become more confrontational during the past 10, 25 years, but even with that they do a better job than they usually get credit for.
That said, there’s no way to sugarcoat some of the plays they’ve missed this offseason. TV, with its high- tech replays, has shown us how glaring some of these goofs are and how devastating these calls have been to teams.
Of course, the Chicago White Sox are happy because many of the disputed calls have been in their favor.
I’ve always wondered what goes on behind closed doors in choosing umpires for baseball’s premier events. Do the best umpires get these assignments, or is the selection political?
Mention politics to Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB’s new executive vice president for baseball operations, and he gets testy.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Solomon, who succeeded Sandy Alderson last spring when the latter became the San Diego Padres’ CEO.
Solomon, who with vice president Mike Port oversees umpires, is disturbed with all the attention the blown calls this postseason are getting.
“ I’m very troubled,” Solomon says. “ Not taken into account are all the tough calls they get right. There is still a human element involved in our game called umpiring.
“ Until we go to robotic umpiring, we’re
going to have a situation every
now and then where there will
be room for disagreement.”
Solomon says the selection
process for postseason umpires is exhaustive.
I tried to get him to say the
World Series crew, led by 28-
year veteran Joe West, is the
best of the best. Solomon
“ I would never say individual people are better than other individual people,” he says. “ But the crew we put on the World Series is one of the top crewswe picked, one of the top we have in baseball. All of these guys are at the top of their game. Postseason umpires are our best umpires. Period.”
Ask Solomon how postseason umpires are picked, and there’s no hesitation.
First of all, he says, umpires with the most experience and highest ratings are never grouped together.
“ You need to mix it up,” he says. “ It’s not a perfect science, butwe try to put the best possible crew on the 4 eld for each series.”
It should be mentioned no umpire can work back- to- back series. West worked the Division Series, couldn’t work the League Championship Series and returns for the World Series.
Planning for the postseason startsweeks before.
Criteria are very important: Strike zone, QuesTec performance, situation management, experience, missed calls, overall umpiring knowledge, pace of game, mobility, in- season supervisor comments and observer reports.
Remember QuesTec? That’s the controversial electronic system used to evaluate how accurately umpires call balls and strikes.
Once the crews are set, Commissioner Bud Selig, MLB President Bob DuPuy and Solomon meet. “ We all have a chance to have an opinion about the lists submitted and go back for one 4 nal deliberation with the selection committee,” he says. My view: Astros manager Phil Garner questions a call with umpire Jeff Nelson in Game 2 on Sunday.
Pausing, Solomon adds: “ We don’t have one guy sitting in the back room picking his buddies. It is basically the overall performance over the year thatwe look at.”
Around the horn:
Fans World Series games at Houston’s Minute Maid Park might think Bob Vila is in town. MLB, in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity International, is constructing eight homes in a vacant lot near the stadium and the George R. Brown Convention Center. Construction starts at 7 a. m. daily and will stop just before the 4 rst pitch each day. Many of the World Series players are expected to stop by the project. They should be complete Thursday and be transported to the Gulf Coast area for families who lost their homes as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. . . . Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who was in Chicago for the Series, obviously has a special interest in White Sox 4 rst baseman Paul Konerko. During Lasorda’s tenure as Dodgers general manager in 1998 he traded Konerko to the Cincinnati Reds for reliever Jeff Shaw. . . . Even though the Astros have landed in the playoffs this year and last via the wild-card route, their former GM Gerry Hunsicker thinks changes should be made to make it more dif 4 cult for wild cards in the playoffs. “ I don’t have an answer,” he says, “ but after a 162- game schedule teams which win their divisions should get some kind of advantage.”