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Blown calls: Five ways to break ump slump

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Ben Walker
October 13, 2009

A botched call in the corner. A phantom foul ball at home plate. Big misses on the bases. Umpires are getting an awful lot of attention in these playoffs, and that’s never a good thing for baseball.


“We’re judged not by excellence, but by perfection. Our job is to get every call correct,” Gerry Davis, crew chief for the Philadelphia-Colorado series, said early Monday. “That’s what we aspire to do. Perfection is very tough. That’s a tough aspiration.”


“I don’t know what else we can do,” he said.


Looking ahead to next postseason, five ways to help break the ump slump:


Eject umpires from the foul lines

They only get in the way. They’re uncomfortable standing out in left field or right, it’s not a natural spot to work from. On balls down the lines, umpires want some distance to draw perspective. Like a moviegoer sitting in the front row, Phil Cuzzi may’ve been too close to clearly see Joe Mauer’s shot at Yankee Stadium. Besides, replay covers the yes-or-no homer decisions.


Keep crew chief in infield

As it stands, the crew chief works the plate in Game 1, then spends the next two games in the outfield. No good. He’s the most experienced guy, he should be in the middle. Would Davis have seen Chase Utley’s tapper go off his leg, a play Jerry Meals missed? Working his 19th postseason series, Davis certainly would’ve gotten a better look than he did from left field. A very slight adjustment in how umpires rotate spots from game to game would always keep the chief in the mix, especially during arguments. Fact: Six-man crews began in the 1947 World Series and the four base umpires never moved to the outfield.


Leave crews intact

Like the Boston Pops, an umpire crew must work in harmony. Umps know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, sometimes using a little glance or subtle sign to stay on the same page. Rather than a single excellent umpire, it’s the whole crew that often earns a fine reputation around the majors. There might a benefit to letting umpires who have spent the entire year together stay as a foursome in the postseason.


Toss the merit system

Major League Baseball spends the whole year grading the umpires and says it picks the best ones for the postseason. The assignments come with an understanding—the World Series crew chief and some of his colleagues won’t work the next October. Foul ball! The top umpires should be calling the most important games, period.


Upon further review ...

OK, time to expand replay. Not for the strike zone or tag plays, those still depend too much on getting the right angle on shifting parts—witness some of the early action Monday in Game 4 of the Phillies-Rockies series. But there’s no reason not to have it on the foul lines, as they do in major tennis tournaments. The lines are the lines, they don’t move. Worried about where to place the runners after a blown call? Don’t be, umpires could easily sort out where they belong. Better that than dealing with an obvious miss.



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