Umpire negotiations

DMZ · November 28, 2004 at 7:18 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The 2000 agreement with the World Umpires Association expires December 31st. There’s been remarkably little rumblings about this, which I hope is a good thing. The quality of umpiring has improved dramatically in four years since Richie Phillips botched a labor action (having agreed to not take collective labor action in the agreement his union signed with baseball, he encouraged umpires to resign together to force a new contract and MLB, sensing opportunity, accepted the resignations and… well, there’s a new union now).

The only substantial issue I can see is the conflict between MLB’s quest to make umpiring better through the application of technology (through Questec) and the union’s opposition to any evaluation based on what they believe is badly flawed technology.

This isn’t as simple as it would seem at first. The union, in trying to protect the interests of its current members, doesn’t want outside evaluation because it gives the evaluating body power over compensation and, potentially, promotion and post-season assignements. MLB wants umps to call the strike zone consistently, and is willing to apply technology to solve the problem.

What’s different about this year from 2000 and previous negotiations is that WUA’s consistently demonstrated that they’re willing to improve the quality of their work, and their work has made the game itself better. If they and baseball can look at this contentious issue and try to find a way to incorporate advancements with the goal of making umpiring better, there’s an agreeable compromise to be found.


19 Responses to “Umpire negotiations”

  1. U.S.S. Mariner » Ichiro at the Key on November 29th, 2004 6:28 am
    […] 11/28/2004

    Ichiro at the Key
    Filed under: Mariners — JMB @ 11:28 pm.

    As noted here, Ichiro was indeed at the Sonics game tonight. He got a long standing ovation when fir […]

  2. U.S.S. Mariner » Umpires reach agreement on December 24th, 2004 10:17 pm
    […] @ 3:17 pm.

    Not getting a lot of press on Chirstmas Eve, either, but the I’ve talked about this before, but it’s good news that this got resolved amicably. The… less good […]

  3. Adam T on November 28th, 2004 7:38 pm

    off topic but for all the Ichiro lovers out there – he was just shown on FSN at the Sonics game tonight

  4. drabbones on November 28th, 2004 9:18 pm

    I understand that MLB is striving for consistancy in the strike zone from its umpires, but one of the great things about the game of baseball is that it incorperates the human element. Each umpire has a different stike zone and both the pitcher and hitter must adjust each game. I hope MLB will not insist that technology takes this out of the game.

  5. Steve on November 28th, 2004 9:40 pm

    #2: you’re on to something there. Let’s extend that a bit. Wouldn’t it be great if each umpire had a different opinion of what was a foul ball – we’ll let the fielders adjust to that every game.

    And since the human element adds so mucb, let’s let each referee in football have their own standard of what is pass interference. Wouldn’t it be neat if receivers and defenders never knew for sure what contact is allowed? In basketball, let’s eliminate the arc and have each referee decide whether a player was far enough away for his shot to be a 3-point attempt. Each game the players can adjust to what the particular officials are calling that day.

    Returning to balls and strikes, we could make it even more interesting if we let the umpires change their strike zone during the course of the game. Then we would be treated to not only watching the players adjust at the start of the game, but we could watch with fascination as they continually adjust throughout the game.

    And, since each umppire ultimately makes the decision the way they see it, why should we even bother defining what the strike zone is at all? We can just define a strike to be any pitch that the umpire decides is a strike. It’s perfect – how can any player or manager argue balls and strikes? If the umpire called it a strike, then it’s a strike. We can carry it further and throw out the rule book entirely. An out can be whatever an umpire determines to be an out. The ulitmate human element – each game all of the players in all positions will need to decide what the umpires are calling that day.

    Heck, we can even give the umpres to decide what sport they want to call that day. You might go to Safeco expecting to see a ball game, only to have the umps decide to call a soccer match. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the players adjust as they try to figure out what sport they’re supposed to be playing that day.?

    It’s a pretty nifty solution you’ve got there. It’s a wonder it hasn’t been widely adopted already.

  6. DMZ on November 28th, 2004 9:45 pm

    Woah, that’s some serious-ass sarcasm there.

  7. Steve on November 28th, 2004 10:09 pm

    Sarcasm? Moi??

  8. James T on November 28th, 2004 10:16 pm

    Just wanted to say that, as a Red Sox fan, we got the ultimate exhibition of the superiority of the new way of umpiring games in ALCS game 6 when the umps huddled and got two calls right. They accorded Mark Bellhorn the homer he deserved and not the double that the ump closest to the play had somehow erred and called. And, of course, they called out the player now often called Slappy McBluelips by Sox fans for his silly little coquettish slap at the ball in Arroyo’s glove. Good job umps.

  9. drabbones on November 28th, 2004 10:18 pm

    Maybe we should just play the games by computer. You know EJ sports Baseball or something. That should eliminate the human element enough to satisfy the baseball geeks.

    For my money, the worst thing about football is instant replay. When NLB adopts that, I give up.

  10. Steve on November 28th, 2004 10:24 pm

    I think that the job of the umpire is to make calls in accordance with the rule book. The closer an ump comes to that standard, the better the ump is. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but that’s the way I think it should be.

  11. Paul Covert on November 28th, 2004 10:25 pm

    In my view, “decided by humans, not computers” and “decided on the field, not in a booth” are nice, but their value pales in comparison to that of “decided by the players’ performance, not the officials’ judgment.”

  12. drabbones on November 28th, 2004 10:30 pm

    #8 You are absolutely correct, and I’m sure every major league umpire would agree. Each of them would tell you that he calls the strike zone prescribed by the rule book.

  13. Terry Benish on November 29th, 2004 12:18 am

    Interesting thread…in practice, umpires are known for how they call games…Moyer will work an ump to actually expand the zone, width-wise, during a game and the umps will go along from time to time. Not all umps will do that for him. I can’t think of his name, but Piniella used to refer to him as the guy that smirked…he is very consistent behind the plate. Pitchers and catchers from game to game have to determine what they are going to get, and there is variance. That’s the game. Catchers are taught to frame pitches and its not catch it and jerk it back.

    The umps own the game, once it starts and they will call it the way they feel that night.

  14. msb on November 29th, 2004 9:30 am

    the ‘smirker’ was CB Bucknor (rated ‘worst’ in a SI players poll(;
    I have to say, I’d love to see another Players Association poll ranking the umpires (as they did back in ’99) but I don’t imagine we’ll see that anytime soon 🙂

  15. ajp on November 29th, 2004 10:14 am

    Steve, I watch a little football and basketball, my impression is that every back judge does seem to have his own opinion of what constitutes pass interference. Just as basketball referees seem to have differing opinions on what constitutes charging vs blocking…and, as far as I can tell, those opinions do change during the course of a game.

    As to balls and strikes, MLB has adopted a sound approach. In game, it is the umpires discretion as to what is a ball and what is a strike. But, those same umpires who have absolute autonomy during the game, are rightfully subject to review and evaluation by an outside agency after the game.

    It is so very nice that umpiring has improves, but removing oversight will only guarrantee that it will decline again. Need proof? Look at the record of the US Supreme Court “upholding and interpreting” the constitution.

  16. Evan on November 29th, 2004 10:38 am

    Ahh, CB Bucknor. He’s the guy who stood there smirking while Lou hurled first base into the outfield. Twice.

    I hate CB Bucknor.

  17. Swing and A Miss on November 29th, 2004 4:19 pm

    For over one hundred years, officials in all sports made the calls. They made errors. Just like the player who dropped the pass, booted the grounder, threw over the first baseman’s head, missed the free throw or lay up. While officials screw up at times, it is the human element of the game just like the players playing the games are. I hate these 10 minute holds to look at every play. First pros, now some college football. Enough time is wasted in the NFL now. Like their time out after a score for the TV commercial. After the commercial, they come back for the kickoff and then immediately call another time out for another commercial. Why the heck not just add that minute to the first commercial time and keep the actual game flowing? If baseball goes to instant replays, it will take 5 hours to play a game as every hit down the line, called strikes or balls, missed tag, close play at first is reviewed! Enough already. People play the games. Let people call the games. If you want all this technology, get a Gameboy and play on.

  18. Bruce on November 29th, 2004 6:43 pm

    Have we finished scattering the limbs of the instant reply straw man yet?

    Wanting the umpires to call the best game they can is a good thing. Just because there’s silicon involved doesn’t make Questec (or some other technology) a threat to the Old Ballgame.

  19. John on November 29th, 2004 6:49 pm

    Re: the Bucknor business: if you’d like to read the game writeup:
    IMO, Lou misinterpreted the smirk. I don’t think the guy was smirking with the satisfaction of knowing that Lou couldn’t change his ruling; but his smirk was his enjoyment(similar to the explosive laugh we all had) of Lou going ballistic.

    BTW: “We won a game,” Piniella growled, still a bit upset long after his spring to confront Bucknor, kicking and throwing his hat and finally pulling up the first-base bag and throwing it twice. “And that’s all I give a damn about.”
    Isn’t that what Mike Schooler said, that “all Lou cares about is winning”?