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Best Umps Making the Best Calls

October 25, 2002|Bill Plaschke | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The hustle and correct call by home plate umpire Mike Winters on Kenny Lofton's fifth-inning bunt single Wednesday night confirmed what many had already been thinking.

This is one of best-officiated World Series in recent memory.

After four games, there had been no controversial calls, no screaming managers, scant player griping.

This is not a coincidence.

For the third consecutive year, Major League Baseball, after severely weakening the umpires' union, has been allowed to choose only the best umpires for the World Series.

"This is the merit system working at its best," said Ralph Nelson, umpiring vice president.

Under the old labor agreement, the World Series umpires were chosen by a rotation based on seniority and other factors. The best players were there, but the best umpires weren't, resulting in several renowned bad calls, from now-infamous names such as Don Denkinger.

But several years ago, after many umpires quit during a failed union power play, baseball officials merged umpires from both leagues and set up new rules.

One of those rules was that the umpires would be rated during the season and given spots in the World Series based only on ability.

"This raised the level of umpiring not just in the series, but overall, because now everyone had motivation to take their game to the next level," said Steve Palermo, umpiring supervisor.

The only restrictive rule under the new agreement is that umpires cannot work consecutive World Series.

"But if we don't have 12 good umpires, then we're in trouble anyway," Nelson said.

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