Is it just me, or does it seem like someone took a nasty piss in the collective corn flakes of Major League Baseball umpires. First Balking Bob Davidson gets in an argument with Carl Crawford and Joe Maddon that would embarrass even the most belligerent drunk buffoon at a bar, then the embarrassing and pathetic Joe West tossed Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen after calling Buehrle for two balks and generally making a spectacle of himself, and now Bill Hohn has gone looking for a fight, tossing out Astros ace Roy Oswalt in yesterday’s game. What is going on? I’m somewhat tempted to think this all started when West took the liberty to call the Yankees and Red Sox “embarrassing and pathetic” for their slow pace of play at the beginning of the year, something that’s just completely indefensible coming from an official, but the truth is, all of these guys have long track records with this sort of thing, particularly for Hohn and West, and nothing has ever happened to them before. Indeed, West is President of the world umpire’s union. So really, why shouldn’t they do this sort of thing? They know good and well nothing is going to happen to them. If Hohn can survive brazenly antagonizing the Braves, including calling time-out himself to go argue with a manager in the dugout, what can’t he survive?
Baseball umpires get a lot of flak for blown calls and odd missing balls and strikes. God knows I’ve criticized them for that multiple times. There are varying degrees of thought as to how bad the problem is, and that’s fine. But this isn’t about blown calls or idiosyncratic strike zones, it’s about the professional conduct of officials. That ought to be non-negotiable. Can you imagine an NFL official criticizing a team for passing too much, causing more clock stoppages than a team who runs the ball 30 times a game? Or an NBA official calling a time-out to stop and argue a foul call with a coach sitting on his bench? Of course not, because these officials would be fired immediately afterwards. And they should, because this sort of thing damages the integrity of the game. And not just because it calls into question the official’s credibility (and it does), but because it can have actual effects on the game. Roy Oswalt getting ejected forces the Astros to go to an inferior reliever, and makes them over-tax their bullpen as well, something that will affect their game-management for a week or more. Let me repeat that, a decision made by an umpire will have effects on games played for the next week.
Officials wield a lot of power on a baseball field, they need to wield that power judiciously. Games, to say nothing of seasons, should not turn on the bad attitude of an umpire on a power trip. Additionally, this isn’t good for the umpires either. Baseball umpires get enough criticism for missed calls, and several people probably aren’t giving them enough credit for doing the difficult job their taxed with. And nothing is hurting the umpire who maybe makes an honest mistake on a call, but nonetheless conducts himself with professionalism and integrity at all times than the Hohns and Wests of the world carrying on like arrogant buffoons. More than just baseball, those umpires, as well as the umpires union, need to speak out and marginalize these bad apples, for the good of the game, as well as their own.