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Last week will not be regarded among the finest hours for umpires.  There were the usual gaffes and miscalls that come with having to make split-second judgments, most of which can easily be written off as minor, but there were issues that simply left the fans, not to mention the sports media, scratching their heads or screaming for robot umpires.

The first issue was a big one: when is a home run not a home run?  Well when Robin Ventura hits it and never makes it around the bases is one scenario.  A miscalled foul ball might be another.  But never before have we seen one hit called a live ball, as umpire Angel Hernandez and his umpiring staff did and who, after the play was done, rightly went to video review and then missed the call despite several clear angles from different cameras showing the ball leaving the playing field and hitting a railing beyond the fence and bouncing back in.

It wasn’t a minor call, but a game-changing one.  The ball that Adam Rosales hit should have tied the game, robbing the A’s of at least a chance to play for a win.

It’s hard to know just what was going through the heads of Hernandez and his crew when they came back to the field after the lengthy video review and made Rosales stay at second instead of signaling for a home run.  It makes you wonder if the umpires actually even went to the video room to review the play or if they just took a break.

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Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.

Now in truth I don’t believe that they didn’t go and review it, but I think they went to that room with a decision already made, and somehow Hernandez felt that changing the on-the-field call was a blow to his staff.  It’s hard to otherwise comprehend how they missed a call that from several angles was clear to everyone else with access to video of the hit.

Some would call that a machismo thing, others might call it indifference on the part of the umpires, and others might call it blindness.  But in their decision Angel Hernandez said that they didn’t see enough evidence to overturn their on-field call.  If that’s the case you have to wonder if the umpires didn’t have access to all the videos that we could see on television.  Thus it was a lousy call, one later acknowledged as wrong by MLB but perhaps it really was an honest error.

 

The second issue was a bit more serious.  It was about an umpire not actually knowing the rules of the game.  When Fieldin Culbreth allowed an illegal pitching change in Thursday’s Astros-Angels game, we didn’t question his eyesight but rather his knowledge of the rules that he is supposed to be enforcing.

While it is embarrassing that Astros manager Bo Porter didn’t know the rule, it’s criminal that Culbreth didn’t and that none of this umpring crew took the steps to confer with him and make sure that the rules were applied correctly.  That isn’t just a problem.  It’s professional malpractice.  Umpires need to know the rules.  That is their job -- not part of their job but their whole job.  It's why MLB suspended Culbreth and fined the rest of his umpiring crew.

Cuthbreth’s two-day suspension is little more than a slap on the wrist.  It’s something that should have warranted a longer suspension and should lead to more training for the umpires.

Still it’s a step in the right direction that MLB took steps this week, both to announce that an umpring crew badly blew a call and also to publicly discipline an umpire for not knowing his job.  For the first time in a while it makes it seem that someone actually watches the watchers and that baseball is taking steps to ensure the integrity of the game.