Stop the griping and whining about umps
Arbiters easy targets for players, managers when things go wrong
Here we go again.
Whine, whine, whine.
Which leads to this message to the latest group of umpire bashers: Stifle, please. Not only has baseball had these admirable men as long as there has been a home plate, but studies show through the decades that umpires get calls involving balls and strikes -- along with others -- correct at an incredibly high rate.
And, yes, I've heard the rant of Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who represents those who want the current way of umpiring to go the way of the Dodo Bird -- or at least doubleheaders.
"I want a ball called a ball and a strike called a strike," Valentine told reporters this week. "Figure out how. I don't know how to do it. I know you can. It's 2012."
Valentine's reference was to 21st-century technology, but most of the umpiring ways of the 20th and 19th centuries aren't bad.
They're actually pretty good.
For every time an umpire misses a single by Carlos Beltran that is ruled a foul ball despite kicking up chalk down the left-field line to give Johan Santana the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, there are tens, hundreds, thousands of other spot-on calls.
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson had it exactly right when he told me a few years ago, "Folks have put umpires in such a tough position that it's almost impossible to umpire today. Fans in the stands hear commentators on TV and on radio and in the newspapers talking about an umpire missing a call [in the past], and the fans bring it right to the ballpark.
"Suddenly, there's a close call against the home team, and the fans are yelling, 'See there? There goes another blown one. He wasn't safe or he wasn't out.' All of this just increases the mindset of hostility toward umpires, and it's not justified."
Here's a suggestion: Leave it alone. No massive overhaul of umpires throughout the Major Leagues, and no expansion involving those two overrated words in sports: instant replay.
For one, the meteoric rise of instant replay in pro and college football has made games last forever. You can blame it on the length of those replays (despite a time limit) and the quantity of them. As a result, many fans are grumbling over what they once considered a sports messiah.
Then there is the crutch factor. It's getting to the point where NBA referees are checking television monitors for nearly everything near the ends of games to make sure they "got it right."
That leads to timid officiating. Why make a definitive call -- or one at all -- when you have videotape at your disposal?
As for baseball, its bosses have been obsessed for years with trying to control the length of games. Think about that, and now think about how baseball's last Collective Bargaining Agreement approved the expansion of instant replay beyond home-run calls.
Under the new rules, instant replay will cover fair and foul calls, whether balls are caught or trapped by fielders and the expansion of fan-interference reviews from the home-run boundary to every wall.
Those rules were supposed to take place this season, but the umpires' union has yet to approve them.
Well, if you're into timely baseball games. Even if there are zero arguments between managers and umpires on plays involving the new rules, the length of games will increase. And there will be arguments, even if you tell managers that decisions via replay are final.
Still, the umpire bashing continues, and it is a combination of the silly, the knee-jerk and the predictable.
After Jim Leyland's Detroit Tigers lost a recent game to the Red Sox, he ripped the umpiring without saying so directly and begged the media to "hold people accountable" with their computer keys.
I'm assuming the "people" that Leyland was referring to weren't his underachieving players. Despite a talented (and expensive) bunch that includes Cy Young and American League MVP holdover Justin Verlander and slugger Prince Fielder, who came as a $214 million free agent in the offseason, the Tigers aren't even a .500 team.
Elsewhere, Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was so upset last week with the balls and strikes called by home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn that he fumed in the clubhouse while saying Reyburn should be sent back to Triple-A. This was after Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and umpire Bob Davidson were suspended one game each for cursing each other.
What are the Phillies doing this season after spending the previous five winning the National League East?
They are solidly in last place.
See a pattern here? If not, consider this: Just like the Tigers and the Phillies, the Red Sox are struggling, with terrible pitching, crushing injuries and little power from the previously potent bat of Adrian Gonzalez. Worse, the Red Sox are in the AL East, where they keep going south in the standings while everybody else is going north.
Which brings us back to that easy target ... umpires.
Not surprisingly, with those around Red Sox Nation griping over the state of their team, which spent last September performing the greatest final-month collapse in big league history, Valentine is harder than anybody on the state of umpiring.
First, he blasted the weekend-long umpiring at Fenway Park -- you know, after the Washington Nationals swept his Red Sox. Then he continued his assault on umpires this week, but only with a softer tone. "I think [umpires] are very well trained, and I think they're very good at what they do," Valentine said. "It's impossible to do what they do, so why do we ask them to do the impossible?"
Mostly because umpires do the impossible well.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.