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BILL SHAIKIN

For those keeping score, that's strike three called on umpires

Mistakes in Game 4 of the ALCS do not lead to any runs or cause the Angels to lose to the Yankees, but they do illustrate the league does not have its A-team in to officiate the playoffs.

October 21, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

This could have been quite a disgrace. The greatest postseason closer had been accused of spitting on the ball.

Baseball officials could have laughed the whole thing off as the latest YouTube sensation, as a doctored video merrily linked all around the Internet.

They did not. They scrambled into rapid-response mode Tuesday morning, analyzing broadcast footage and still photographs and clearing Mariano Rivera within two hours.

The integrity of the game had been preserved.

For another seven hours, anyway.

Then the umpires went to work.

The Angels did not lose to the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series because of three bad calls. Not even close. None of the bad calls led to a run.

But, in what has become a painful daily ritual in this year's postseason, all of America tuned into a playoff game and watched replays of umpires blowing a call -- or, on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium, call after call after call.

This is not to say the umpires are calling the games with anything less than the highest integrity. This is to say that Bud Selig and his owners are presenting these playoff games without the best umpires.

The teams that get this far are the best ones. The umpires are not. How is that anything less than a breach of integrity?

You should have seen Tim McClelland in the interview room Tuesday night. He appeared genuinely uncomfortable, even pained, as he honored the request of his superiors to go before the television cameras and explain his mistakes.

McClelland committed two of the three umpire errors, ruling Nick Swisher had left third base too soon when he had not and ruling Robinson Cano was standing on third base when he was not.

"I'm just out there trying to do my job and do it the best I can," McClelland said. "And unfortunately there was, by instant replay, two missed calls."

Dale Scott missed one too, calling Swisher safe at second base when Erick Aybar had tagged him out.

We should be talking about CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez, not about McClelland and Scott -- and Jerry Meals and Phil Cuzzi and CB Bucknor.

Remember Bucknor? He missed three calls in the first game between the Angels and Boston Red Sox, all by himself.

Mike Port, baseball's vice president in charge of umpires, saw the litany of errors in person Tuesday. How would he explain the epidemic of mistakes to fans wondering just what has gone so wrong?

"I don't know that I can explain it," Port said after the game. "I only know the effort and professionalism of the umpires. They don't make excuses when these things happen. They review plays. They try to be accurate at what they do.

"Sometimes, try as they might, things occur, like what happened tonight. It's not a lack of effort. It's a performance thing."

Bingo.

Port and his staff rate the umpires. We should have the 24 highest-rated umpires in the division series, the 12 highest-rated umpires in the league championship series, the six highest-rated umpires in the World Series.

We do not.

"That's beyond my province," Port said. "Those are the rules we live by."

Translation: Baseball's collective bargaining agreement forbids Port from assigning an umpire to work consecutive rounds in the playoffs, or working the World Series in consecutive years.

That would be like Selig forbidding the Angels from representing the American League West in the playoffs for a third consecutive year because the Texas Rangers ought to have a chance.

This is patently ridiculous. When the labor agreement comes up for renewal, Selig and the owners ought to insist on using the best umpires, and only the best umpires, for the most important games. Let the umpires explain their opposition publicly, if need be.

This is no guarantee of a controversy-free October. McClelland is considered one of baseball's better umpires. You can never eliminate mistakes, but you can minimize the chance of a bad call with the best umpires.

If the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies beat our local teams one more time and advance to the World Series, they'll get there on merit. Selig ought to demand the umpires do the same.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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