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COMMENTARY

Umpire suspensions should follow Angels-Astros fiasco

May 10, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Angels Manager Mike Scioscia argues a call with the umpire in the seventh inning of a game against the Houston Astros on May 9.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia argues a call with the umpire in the seventh… (Scott Halleran / Getty Images )

The official word from Major League Baseball is that the umpiring fiasco in Thursday's game between the Angels and Houston Astros is that "the matter is being reviewed." However, since MLB already has acknowledged the umpires ruled in error, the real matter left for review is how the umps should be disciplined.

They should be suspended, all four of them.

First and foremost, the umpires should be suspended because they failed in knowing the rules they are paid to enforce. Astros Manager Bo Porter managed to convince the umpires -- not one, but all four -- that a rule had been changed when it had not. A relief pitcher has to face at least one batter, pinch-hitter or no pinch-hitter.

Beyond that, the umpires should be suspended in a show of accountability to the teams and the fans -- that is, the paying customers.

MLB could fine the umpires, but the league generally does not announce fines -- for players or for umpires. The league does announce suspensions, and public accountability here is critical to how fans perceive the integrity of the game.

Porter explains himself after the game. So did Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. 

The umpires did not. Fieldin Culbreth, the crew chief, responded to every reporter with some variation of this comment: "All matters concerning protests are handled through the league office, and that's all I can tell you."

Turns out, Culbreth was right with that call. The Angels played the game under protest, and umpires are instructed not to comment on protests. The Angels' protest became moot when they won the game, but they did not officially withdraw the protest until Friday morning.

But that is unsatisfactory as well. Under the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the umpires' union, the umpires need not explain their decisions to any and all reporters, but the umps are expected to speak with a pool reporter.

In the wake of another umpiring debacle -- the Oakland Athletics lost a home run Wednesday on a call MLB admitted Thursday had been wrong -- the umps did speak with a pool reporter but declined to take follow-up questions.

If MLB and the players' union can modify a labor agreement to toughen the sport's drug policy, certainly MLB and the umpires' union can modify a labor agreement so that the umps can do the very same thing expected of players and managers -- that is, explain to the fans what happened, and why.

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