Jim Joyce, the umpire whose missed call deprived Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game on June 2, is baseball’s best umpire nonetheless, according to an exclusive ESPN The Magazine Baseball Confidential poll of 100 major league players.
In general, however, baseball players think the umpires are pretty good. Overall, 29 percent of the players surveyed gave the umpires a “B” grade, with 20 percent giving them a “C” and 16 percent and “A.”
I will say that I tend to suspect a general distrust of things said to be anonymous might have colored the results a tad “rosier” than they are in reality. Ever since names from the anonymous list of 2003 PED test failures started trickling out I imagine that most players will keep their cards close to their chest on potential hot-button issues.
Players also were decidedly opposed to replay and overwhelmingly applauded commissioner Bud Selig for not overturning Joyce’s call that kept Galarraga from being the 21st pitcher in history to throw a perfect game.
Joyce was named in 53 percent of the surveys, which asked players for the three best and three worst umpires in the game, as well as questions about instant replay and whether Galarraga’s perfect game should stand. That beat runner-up Tim McClelland, who ironically was panned for his performance in Game 4 of last year’s American League Championship Series. McClelland was named on 34 percent of the ballots.
Both of these guys are known for some pretty huge mistakes in the last 12 months, but they also share another thing. They owned up to their screw-ups. Unlike clowns like Joe West, C.B. Bucknor and Angel Hernandez they admit when they screw up. That other trifecta of ‘tards just puffs their chest out and stubbornly refuses to acknowledge their short comings.
Not surprisingly CB Bucknor was named on 42 percent of the ballots as worst umpire, leading that category. The total narrowly edged Joe West, who was named on 40 percent, and Angel Hernandez, who was named on 22 percent.
Why does it not amaze anyone who watches a lot of baseball that those three stooges were topping that list? The guys whose names get mentioned on ESPN more than any other officials, which is never a good thing for an umpire, are deemed the worst at their craft. Go figure.
Joyce, in his 22nd year in the majors, was the clear choice of National League players, with Jim Wolf (18 percent) second. Joyce and McClelland, a 27-year veteran, tied for first among American League players (52 percent) — both were former AL umpires before baseball combined its umpires into one entity in 1999.
The survey was taken after Joyce’s call, which came on what would have been the final out of a perfect game for Galarraga. Joyce called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe at first on a ground ball hit to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who threw to Galarraga covering the bag. Replays showed Donald was clearly out.
Joyce apologized nearly immediately for his mistake. Players surveyed said it didn’t impact their view of him.
“The sad thing about the Galarraga game is, Jim Joyce is seriously one of the best umpires around,” one player said. “He always calls it fair, so players love him. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s terrible that this happened to him.”
Bucknor, in his 11th season, was named the worst umpire by both American and National League players, with West and Hernandez second and third in both leagues. West, in his 32nd season, and Hernandez, in his 17th, work on the same crew; West is the crew chief.
West, who made headlines earlier this season when he criticized the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for taking too long to play games, was named the umpire with the quickest trigger to eject players. He was named on 35 percent of the ballots, followed by Rob Drake (12 percent) and Bill Hohn (9 percent).
The survey also found players lukewarm — at best — on replay. Only 22 percent of players favored replays for calls on the bases, and only 36 supported replay on fair/foul calls.
And only 13 percent thought Selig should have given Galarraga a perfect game despite Joyce’s botched call. Said one player: “As a pitcher, it was heartbreaking to see that. But the call had to be overturned on the field, not in the front office.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Rational Pastime has some interesting, albeit unsurprising, information about MLB’s perceived competitive balance problem:
That said, we don’t yet have enough evidence to make this claim just yet. A deeper investigation of the level of competitive balance in baseball and other sports requires more than a look at regular season win distributions. We also need to look at the distribution of playoff appearances, as well as the volatility of win totals from year to year (what sociologists and economists would refer to as “mobility” were we discussing household and personal incomes rather than success in sport).
So there you have it–based on win distributions, the MLB is clearly the most balanced American sports league, and the NFL the least balanced, contrary to popular opinion. This tells us that there is something inherent in baseball that is generating a great deal of fairness for the teams that play, regardless of payroll disparity. This also raises the possibility that Baseball’s “competitive balance problem” may be nothing more than a public relations problem (which isn’t insignificant, it’s just not a problem that can be fixed by modifying the distribution of payrolls).
Every time some egghead runs one of these studies, they find the same thing: Major League Baseball’s competitive balance, as measured by regular-season wins, compares favorably with the other sports.
I’m not even sure you need an egghead (or me) to tell you this. Just look around. The worst baseball teams will lose roughly 65 percent of their games. The worst football teams will lose 90 percent of their games; the worst basketball teams, roughly 85 percent.
MLB has had more different World Series winners over the last 20 years than any other sport can claim. It’s kind of obvious to those who can just get past the fact that, sadly, their teams suck or are just mis-managed all to hell.
So, I get it. Do you?
You should also get that the Royals, Reds and Pirates haven’t been truly competitive since today’s graduating college seniors were in diapers because of inept front offices for the most part, not some sort of overwhelming disadvantage.
The system is in place where teams like the Minnesota, Oakland, Tampa and Florida manage to compete, and sometimes even win it all. The fact that these clubs go decades without even coming close speaks volumes to their incompetence.
That is a public-relations problem for Major League Baseball and a management problem for that handful of teams, nothing more.
So lay off the whining about a lack of competitive balance in baseball.
Major League Baseball can’t deny it — the game needs to expand its instant-replay system.
Last postseason, by itself, has proven that.
For instance, the Twins’ Joe Mauer hit a blooper down the left-field line in Game 2 of Minnesota’s series against New York. The ball landed a good half foot inside the line, but, somehow, the foul-line umpire called it foul.
The call might have cost the Twins the game and a chance to make that series interesting.
And there’s no excuse to miss calls like the one in Game 4 of the Yankees-Angels ALCS series, when Mike Napoli clearly tagged out two Yankees by third base who weren’t touching the bag. Innocently but very incorrectly, respected umpire Tim McClelland ruled that Robinson Cano had his foot on third base.
The first replay showed what I had thought when I saw the play live — Cano’s foot was a good 6 inches from touching the rubber.
That could have been changed in a matter of a minute.
Nice and quick.
Those only illustrated the need for the expansion of instant replay.
During the past two weeks of the current season, there has been a plethora of badly missed calls. If you’ve watched the games with one eye, you know what I’m referring to.
All the umpires have been able to do is apologize. They can’t dispute the calls, because, um, their mistakes have been obvious. Really, really, really obvious.
Now we have the Detroit Tiger‘s Armando Galarraga being robbed of baseball immortality.
In case you missed it, the Motown pitcher was starting in place of the recently deposed Dontrelle Willis and tossed an absolute gem of a game. A marvel of efficiency the righty only struck out three batters, but also needed just 88 pitches to complete his masterpiece.
Then, inexplicably, as the Tiger‘s clearly recorded the final out veteran umpire Jim Joyce blew the call.
Just flat out blew it.
Every replay angle on earth showed the Indians Jason Donald was out by a couple of steps, but Joyce didn’t see it that way.
“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it,” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room.
“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said after seeking out the young pitcher to apologize personally. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”
“I don’t blame them a bit or anything that was said. I would’ve said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me.”
Joyce will also undoubtedly get plenty of criticism over why he was ruling such a close play safe considering the circumstances.
Yes, a tie does go to the runner … except when there is a perfect game on the line (thanks to some appendage to that rascally book of “unwritten rules” we hear about now and then.)
Joyce is only human and you can bet that this call will spur another heated debate over expanded instant replay in baseball that might actually go somewhere.
And it should.
We now have a true instance of a single bad umpiring decision irrevocably changing the course of baseball history. One that could have been easily corrected by a review, even if the moment had already been spoiled.
As well it shouldn’t be, but not for the reason most think.
Galarraga was cooler than you or I might have been, going as far as to utter the most ironic of words in telling Joyce “Nobody’s perfect”.
I hope that isn’t lost in all of this because in today’s day & age of “me first” athletes he should really be commended for that fact.
The mere fact that baseball refused to take greater action over replay after last year’s gaffes clearly had a significant impact on it’s post-season games (therefore the season’s outcome), yet will undoubtedly do so now because of what amounts to a blown personal achievement that has no impact beyond the record book is not lost on me.
If change comes, make no mistake it will come for entirely the wrong reason.
We most certainly need to have an expansion of instant replay in the sport I love so much. Not because of some lost personal accolade, but rather so that we make sure the right team wins. But hell, I’ll take it anyway I can get it.
For all the baseball purists out there, I agree with you that MLB shouldn’t let managers be involved in the reviewing process.
Rather, the ump in the box should have all the authority to overturn, not “review,” any call that appears clearly incorrect.
In other words, if they see a replay and know right away that the call on the field wasn’t right, then overturn it.
If two replays don’t show conclusive evidence, play on. And no, balls and strikes should never be reviewed regardless of how many pitches are called wrong — that’s part of the game and always should be.
The fix is simple.
As many of the baseball sages have suggested, put an umpire in the press box with a TV. When he sees a call such as the Mauer one that’s transparently wrong, he’ll signal down to the field umpires in some fashion (helloooo, I can launch the space shuttle from my iPhone, they can figure something out).
The call is reversed. Everyone is happy. (Well, maybe not the team that was the beneficiary of the bad call. But they won’t feel so guilty about getting a break. … Scratch that — they probably wouldn’t feel guilty in the first place, but you get my drift.)
The point is, this is a simple fix. This isn’t football, when some fumble-or-no-fumble reviews are so close, they take 5 minutes, 43 seconds (and seven beer commercials) to review.
In the end, baseball can do what is absolutely right by the game, something it failed so miserably at during the Steroid Era. That would be a huge step in repairing the damage done to America’s past-time in recent years.
(P.S. It took only seconds for Joyce’s Wikipedia page to be defaced. The Internet abides!)