Umpires Are to be Seen and Not Heard

The old line “children are to be seen and not heard” tends to apply to umpires in Major League Baseball. If the broadcasters and fans haven’t noticed them, they’re probably doing a great job. We heard then first base umpire Greg Gibson’s name plenty yesterday, and a whole lot of Scott Barry in the bottom of the fourteenth inning tonight.

I’ll let the venerable Meech from The Fightins sum up the fiasco (click through to see moving pictures!):

Fast-forward to the bottom of the fourteenth, game still tied at 2, when Ryan Howard came up with runners at first and second and the game on the line. On an 0-1 pitch, Ryan Howard tried to check his swing on a pitch down and away, but third base umpire Scott Barry correctly called it a strike. Obviously mad at himself, Howard put his hands on his hips as if to say, “why the hell did I just swing at that?” and this Scott Barry prick puts his hands on his hips blatantly mocking Howard. Four pitches later, after Polanco and Utley moved up to 2nd & 3rd on a wild pitch, Howard once again attempted to check his swing and this minor league fill-in that substituted as the 3rd base ump tonight once again punched him out (figuratively). This time, though, Howard threw his helmet and bat, so Mr. Spotlight Scott Barry (did I mention he’s not even a real MLB ump?) tossed the big man from the game.

Most of the time, an umpire ejecting a player from a game is not a big deal, even if it was a knee-jerk decision. However, this game was very unique not only because it was the bottom of the fourteenth inning, but because the Phillies were out of regular players (including relievers as they had sent Kyle Kendrick to the bullpen as an emergency arm). Consider the context as well: the Phillies are right in the middle of a playoff race both for the division (two and a half games behind the Atlanta Braves entering tonight) and for the Wild Card (one game ahead of the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals).

It doesn’t matter what Howard says and does short of physical violence, he stays in the game. The umpire sucks it up and doesn’t put his ego ahead of the credibility of Major League Baseball games. Scott Barry didn’t do that. As Meech described, Barry had the gall to mock Howard before ejecting him with the shortest fuse known to man.

If it’s the second inning in a 0-0 game and Howard does that? Fine, eject him if you really need to. But in the fourteenth inning of a meaningful game? Never. And absolutely never should the umpire mock a player. It’s hypocritical, immature, and it makes Major League Baseball’s officiating look shoddy.

Now, let’s not forget that Barry isn’t the only one deserving of blame. The offense, for the fifth time in six games, failed to score more than two runs. Ryan Howard was 0-for-7 with five strikeouts. Charlie Manuel burned two position players for one at-bat in the seventh inning (Domonic Brown and Ben Francisco). The botched double-steal by Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco was ill advised, even if it had turned out positively. It seemed like for the last six innings, the Phillies were simply trying to hit home runs rather than settle for singles and doubles.

And let’s give credit where credit is due: Bud Norris pitched effectively, as did Cole Hamels. Both teams’ bullpens were near-immaculate. You can’t fault David Herndon for the way the top of the sixteenth went as none of the Astros’ hits left the infield. The Phillies’ #2, 3, 5 and 6 hitters combined for eight of the ten hits and drew five of the ten walks. Hunter Pence continues to kill the Phillies (1.081 OPS against entering tonight, highest against any team against which he’s logged 25 or more plate appearances).

For all of the great baseball moments the city of Philadelphia has seen over the past few years,  the Roy Oswalt catch in left field to start the fifteenth inning vaulted somewhere into the top-20. Ditto when he came up to bat, to chants of “Let’s go, Oswalt!”, with two outs and the game on the line in the bottom of the sixteenth. How cool was it seeing Chase Utley coaching first baseman Raul Ibanez when Michael Bourn entered the batter’s box? Unfortunately, those great moments evaporated with the realization that an umpire’s bruised ego cost them a very meaningful game in a playoff race.

Even worse is the realization that Barry will not be reprimanded for his actions. There is no oversight on umpires. While Howard will likely be fined and perhaps suspended for his tirade, Barry will go unpunished for being an instigator and for mocking one of baseball’s most iconic (and friendly, no less) sluggers. Matt Gelb tweeted a quote from Manuel on Howard’s tantrum, “I’ve never seen him upset like that.” Howard has been known to argue a call every now and then but always quietly and always respectfully as baseball players are taught.

Barry will take the field tomorrow. He will be given the same power he was given tonight and there will be no questioning on Major League Baseball’s behalf on a potential conflict of interest. When addressing problems, MLB moves at a glacier’s pace and progress is often 20 years behind, if not more. Players, coaches, broadcasters, analysts and fans alike have known for years and years that umpires have too much power and too little oversight. Last night’s Bourn incident as well as the infield single that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game earlier in the year are perfect examples of why baseball needs to expand the use of instant replay as well as establish oversight for umpires.

Major League Baseball instead chooses to live in the past, adhering to Dark Ages logic and sticking their collective head in the sand. The 42 players who busted their ass for sixteen innings tonight deserved better. The managers and coaches who incessantly strategized for sixteen innings deserved better. The fans who stayed glued to their seats on a chilly late-August night deserved better. Patrons of Major League Baseball worldwide deserved better.

Addendum: For a better analysis of what went on in the fourteenth inning, listen to Larry Andersen, one of the Phillies’ radio broadcasters. He is a legend and belongs with the TV broadcast, but his outspokenness will keep him confined to the radio unfortunately. (Fist-bump to @Phylan for the audio.)