Major League Baseball needs to improve umpiring

News-DemocratJune 11, 2013 

There has been an awful lot of talk about the need for more instant replay in Major League Baseball over the last couple of weeks.

Maybe I'm in the minority here. But, despite the fact that a bad call to end the Saturday night game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds may have cost the local nine a game, I really don't want to see America's Pastime punctuated by stoppages in play while the umpires go into a box to look at a little screen.

He's a novel idea -- instead of bailing out the umpires, maybe Major League Baseball should do something to try to get the men in blue to do a better job.

It's not simple human error that results in so many blown calls. It's the lost art of getting the umpire in the right position to make the call.

How many plays at the plate are messed up because the umpire puts himself in position behind the catcher? This is something that high school umpires should be trained to avoid. So why can't big league arbiters get it right?

Umpires supposedly get regular revues and are sometimes punished with fines for their screw-ups. But whatever is being done clearly isn't enough because, not only do the mistakes keep happening, but the usual suspects who make the most mistakes don't ever go away.

If players don't do the job, their teams get rid of them and find some better players. Why doesn't the same free market concept apply to umpires?

Major League Baseball is so ridiculous in the policing of its officials that some of the worst ones in the majors quit in a labor dispute a few years back -- and the powers that be tore up the resignations of most of them, including some of the lowest rated umpires in the game -- and hired them back.

Baseball umpiring is never going to be perfect. But does that mean things should be taken so far as having a machine determine whether pitches are balls and strikes? Baseball is a human game and, for better or worse, it is human to err.

Sometimes it's nice to freshen things up a little bit. But this isn't one of those areas. Major League Baseball has managed to become what it is through nearly 150 years of humans umpiring without instant replay. Once this genie gets out of the bottle, there's no way it's going to get put back in.

I have a baseball almanac from 1956 in which there is a cartoon of the "neighborhood play" -- when a middle infielder is credited with the first out on a double play if he is "in the neighborhood" of second base even though he didn't actually touch it -- and it bemoans how the game will go on without improvements to the umpiring. That was nearly 60 years ago. Yet, still, the game survives.

I can see instant replay being used to determine if a ball was a home run or not or if it's fair or foul. But not on the bases for force outs or tag plays, ball and strikes or determining whether or not a ball was caught.

Technology has seeped into every aspect of our lives and not always for the better. So let's not give it the chance to turn baseball into a product of science.

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