Within the span of a week, two umpires, Joe West and Bill Hohn, made news by prematurely giving the heave-ho to a starting pitcher. So much for the idea about a good umpire being the one nobody notices.
On May 26, West, who was umpiring at first base, ejected White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle in the third inning for protesting the second of two balks called against him. After the second balk was called, Buehrle shrugged his shoulders and dropped his glove, which West interpreted as the pitcher’s attempt to “show him up”. The ejection prompted a more visceral protest from Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who continued venting about West’s arrogance well after the game.
Bill Hohn’s ichy trigger finger was exercised on May 31 in a game between the Astros and Nationals. The victim this time was Roy Oswalt, who was also tossed one out into the third inning after letting out a yell when a close 3-2 pitch was called a ball. According to Oswalt, the scream was more an expression of frustration than protestation, but following a familiar theme, Hohn interpreted the action as an attempt by the pitcher to “show him up.”
In both cases, MLB officials took sides against the umpires involved in the ejection. In the case of Hohn, MLB vice president Bob Watson went so far as to publicly state that the umpire would be sternly reprimanded. As for West, an undisclosed fine was levied.
Since the two incidents, many have sounded off on the growing level of unprofessionalism among umpires, with most targeting their venom toward West, who earlier in the season embroiled himself in a controversy by making remarks about the length of games played between the Red Sox and Yankees (remarks which the umpire, through his publicist, volunteered to readdress).
Although MLB should be concerned about the comportment of its officials, its greater concern should be the quality of their calls. Toward that end, it’s come time for MLB to develop and make public a rating system for its officials. Just like players must face the daily scrutiny of their performance, the officials who oversee the games should as well. Even if it means a labor conflict, it’s time for baseball to impose more stringent requirements on its umpires.
Do MLB Umpires Need to Be the Better Man?