Around The Bases VOl XXII: MLB Can Still Learn From College

yankeesIn the American League Championship game on Tuesday night between the Yankees and Angels, some very poor base management occurred between Yankees catcher Jorge Posada who was on third base and Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano, who was running from second base to third. For some reason, Posada didn’t run home, leaving both men on the third base bag at the same time. Angels’ catcher Mike Napoli alertly and correctly tagged out Cano, who was not on the bag anyway, then he noticed that Posada wasn’t on the bag either and tagged him also.

Third base umpire Tim McClelland incorrectly called Posada safe and play resumed. Instant replay clearly showed Posada was not on third base when Napoli tagged him, not from one, but from every single angle. And it didn’t take several minutes. It was shown on the big screen in right field before Angels’ manager Mike Scocia even reached the third base line to argue.

This was just one more in a series of awful calls this post-season. There is no question that we have seen some of the worst officiating this post-season that we have had the displeasure of seeing in a very long time. In the 21 post-season games we have seen to date, going back to the Divisional Series, we have seen horrendous calls made at first base, second base, third base, along the foul line in the outfield, and some very questionable balls and strikes. No series has been immune.

Three weeks ago, in a Southeast Conference football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the LSU Tigers, with moments left in the game, Georgia scored what they thought was the winning touchdown. As they behaved like young men, reasonably celebrating their significant accomplishment of possibly beating the then 5th ranked team in the country, something shocking happened: The referee in the end zone threw a flag on them for excessive celebration.

This resulted in LSU getting fantastic field position on the ensuing kickoff and scoring relatively quickly and easily to end the game. Immediately after the game, SEC officials reviewed the penalty and declared that there was no excessive celebration by Georgia players and that no flag should have been thrown. While the penalty didn’t specifically cause the Bulldogs to lose, it certainly contributed to their loss.

Last Saturday, the #1 ranked team in the nation, the Florida Gators, played at home against the unranked Arkansas Razorbacks. The Razorbacks gave the Gators one of their toughest games of the season, leading by a touchdown nearly the entire game. Late in the 4th quarter, Arkansas was hit with a 10-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave Florida a 1st down and helped fuel their game tying touchdown. Florida ultimately won the game with a last second field goal. The next day, both SEC officials and the head referee, the one who made the actual call, said that the call should not have been made and it was a bad call. The block thrown by the Arkansas player was a clean hit and there was nothing wrong with the play. Again, the call didn’t cause Florida to win the game, but was a contributing factor.

Oh, the point to this, in case you’re wondering is that it was the exact same referee crew in both the LSU-Georgia game as the Arkansas-Florida game. The SEC has taken swift and decisive action and has suspended the entire crew. They are not eligible to work their next scheduled game, and are not allowed to work another game until November 14th. It is still up in the air whether or not they will be allowed to work a bowl game or not.

Major League Baseball can learn a lot from this example. Note the phrase quick and decisive action. While it’s true that umpires who work one post-series of games do not work the next series (baseball’s way of spreading the wealth). For example, the team that is working the NLCS cannot work the World Series. It’s also very clear that when an umpire makes a call that is so apparently wrong that it’s admitted by all parties immediately after the game, he shouldn’t be allowed to work the next game in the series. Particularly when that botched call directly affects the outcome of the game, or a scoring situation, as we’ve seen several times already this post-season.

Yes, umpires are human, and they make mistakes. But the problem is that baseball’s outright refusal to use instant replay, compounded by the overall arrogance of the umpires in general is so great that they often don’t even feel the need to confer with colleagues to make sure they got the call right, begs for something to be done.

This is the last season under the current umpire’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. A new CBA will begin with the 2010 season. There is still time to work out new details and put in new procedures for umpires to follow. There is still time to give them the help they so desperately need to get the calls right. There is still time to put in punishments for umpires who don’t perform to the levels that is expected of them at the major league level.

Why can’t they be suspended for a series or two? Why can’t they be sent back to Triple-A for 30 days for extra instruction? Players are when they don’t perform. So are coaches and managers. What makes umpires special that they should get any different treatment?

This is the opportunity for change. Right now. If things keep going in the direction they are, or stay the same, baseball has no one to blame but themselves.