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.)

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  1. Jon

    August 26, 2010 09:59 AM

    Some of the comments on this blog amaze me. Of COURSE subjective calls need to take the context of the game into account. That’s why they’re subjective calls.

    The best officials in any sport aren’t necessarily the ones who get every single objective call right, but rather, the ones who best handle subjectivity. That’s why everyone rushed to defend Jim Joyce after the blown call in the “perfect” game, whereas Joe West could get every call right for the rest of his career and would still be lucky to have respect from 10% of baseball.

    Barry handled this situation atrociously and should be appropriately pilloried. The one possible bright spot in the whole situation is that since he isn’t already a tenured umpire, perhaps Major League Baseball can use this to keep him from ever becoming one.

  2. DeLillo

    August 26, 2010 01:29 PM

    I fully agree with the majority of sensible commenters here.

    A correct call is a correct call regardless of the time of the game or the situation or the player in question. In the case currently being discussed, asking an umpire NOT to eject Howard when he normally would have is essentially asking that umpire to BAIL OUT the Phillies for having put themselves in such a bad position late in an extra inning game.

    The subjective and relativistic nature of calls in other sports (particularly the NBA) is routinely cited as examples of bad officiating; why would we want that here?

    Now, I don’t think the ejection here was warranted, I’m just commenting on the general sentiment in here.

  3. Patter

    August 26, 2010 02:43 PM

    This goes out to Issa or whatever you call yourself !! You are an IDIOT Howard is worth every penny of his contract just because you are a loser Mets fan doesn’t give you a right to rip Phillies players!! You and your Mets Blow

  4. Duane

    August 27, 2010 12:05 AM

    Great post Bill. I totally agree with your assessment on Umpiring. Scott Barry blows chunks. I think the T-Shirt vendors should update their shirts to say “I got drunk, I got high, I punched out Scott Barry and got tasered”

  5. Duane

    August 27, 2010 12:26 AM

    As an addendum Dude, credit where credit is due. I log time number 1 that I’ve read a positive Ryan Howard post. Just me personally, I don’t presume to have read every one of your posts.

    Its really tough to take losing to the Astros once let alone 4 times here in Philly. If I didn’t have the Foreknowledge that the Phillies WILL lose somewhere between 65-70 or more games every year, I’d be really upset with these guys. On the other hand, what is certainly disparaging is the manner in which we lost to the Astros. An average of less than 2 runs per game really looks bad. Then again on the converse, you have to look really bad to lose to the Astros anyway. They didn’t exactly burn the barn on us. Kudos to the the Pitching Staff on a whole. THE PHILLIES WILL LOSE 65-70 or more games every year Folks, calm down. When there are 15 games left and they have 65 loses then we can seriously chide them.

  6. jauer

    August 28, 2010 01:59 AM

    umpires should be viewed as constants, not variables. the whole reason this post exists is because scott barry acted as a variable. if he were a constant the phis still would have lost and this post would have been about the lineup instead of the umps.

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