Monday, April 30, 2012

Note to Baseball Umpires: You need more clearer and unsaid hand signals!

By: Evan Troxel

Well, for this week’s article I am going to talk about baseball umpires.  In this article I am going to show you my view of what umpires have done and should have done.  I also criticize some umpires and some of the baseball players in this article.  My focus is mainly on umpires in general, umpires in Major League Baseball, and we are not going to talk about balls and strikes.  I also reveal umpires quirks and the other weird things they do and have done in the past.  I also mention that umpires need some new signals, they need to officiate better, and I mention the things they just flat out need to do better with.  There are several videos with controversial plays that I will make several statements about within this article.  I like when baseball umpires go to video replays to settle disputes as it is more dependable than the umpires are if you ask me (except when there’s no electricity!).  Maybe I will state my opinions in a future article about baseball umpires (in general) but let’s get this article rolling.

Baseball umpires.  Oh my.  They seriously need to get some new hand signals or more signals.  When umpires call a batter out they use their fist either by displaying a punching motion or by bringing their first up to their face, acting physically official, and thinking the word “Yes!” as they do the physical motion.  What happens when an umpire calls a batter safe is that they spread their arms and hands out like a bird really quickly and then they put them down to their sides.

Umpires also throw one of their hands up in the air when they “toss” (eject) a coach and/or a player from a game.

One thing I’d like to know, what’s with the obsession of using hand signals?  Well, the short answer is so that everybody at the same time knows.  By declaring what happened by speaking (or talking) not everyone will necessarily know at the same time because some people can’t hear from a certain distance away or are too far away from another person to hear what they are saying.

There are other hand signals that umpires use (besides calling the players either “Safe!” or “Out!” or ejecting coaches and/or players) but they are “unofficial” and the only people who know about those are the players and coaches; television, radio, and P.A. announcers; and the umpires themselves.  One such “unofficial” hand signal that the umpire uses is sticking is hands up above is head and that usually means timeout or no play (as in a foul ball usually).  

Check out the next 3 hyperlinks below this paragraph.  They are videos of probably the easiest triple play that will ever happen that is an assisted triple play.  The last hyperlink is an analyzation of the triple play.

My thoughts on the triple play (from the hyperlinks above) are that the play wasn’t very fair for the San Diego Padres.  From what I could tell, I think the baseball hit the batter’s left hand (if you look at one of the closer camera angles the batter kind of shakes his left hand immediately after the baseball makes contact with the bat and/or the batter’s left hand) and the bat.  The baseball looked like it deadened after the ball hit the batter’s hand and/or the bat.  Plus, the batter wouldn’t have dropped the bat if he didn’t get hit by the pitch.  

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the baseball went into fair territory.  But then again, most umpires usually call a play like this one dead and just declare the ball foul (even though it really didn’t go foul).

The home plate umpire put his hands up and backed up as he was trying to get out of the way of the Los Angeles Dodgers catcher and then the umpire put his hands up higher as if he was declaring “Foul ball!”  The only Padres player who really had a shot to be safe at the next base was the baserunner who was standing on first base.  But then again, the batter could see what was going on near home plate so he was the only one who had a realistic shot of being safe at the first base.  I thought it was overboard when the home plate umpire ejected the Padres manager and I don’t think that was right.

I think that triple play was one instance in which you’ve got to have replay to change “official on-field calls” in your back pocket.  Also, what’s with that finger pointing thing with home plate umpires?  How about using the safe signal with your hands (instead of pointing to declare a fair ball or to declare that the player was safe)?  Umpires must use that finger pointing thing so that it is a fair play for everybody and that is why they don’t talk or say something.  The San Diego Padres lost this game to the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4 so that wasn’t fair (although I will admit that I do like the Dodgers better).  Vin Scully the longtime Dodgers announcer didn’t even think that play was really fair for the Padres because he was the one that said, “No play.  No play.”
The next hyperlink below this sentence is a hyperlink to an article titled “Friday the 13th yields its share of oddities.”  

In the article from the above hyperlink, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers notices that the batter’s box didn’t extend far enough back away from the pitcher.  My only thoughts to this are…are the foul lines where they are supposed to be or are they off too?  The Tigers ended up losing to the White Sox 5-2 so maybe some members of the White Sox grounds crew should have been fired from their jobs (and for wasting everyone’s time).

Also in the article from the above hyperlink, Josh Thole a player for the New York Mets is on first base and advances to second on his teammate R.A. Dickey’s fair ball bunt (if not sacrifice bunt and Dickey was tagged out).  Thole then trots back to first base (and he must have been thinking that the bunt was a foul ball) and he gets tagged out as he tries to get safely back to first base once he realizes that his team’s opponent the Philadelphia Phillies can tag him out and that he can be called out.  Since we are dealing with umpires in this article, I noticed that the second base umpire didn’t even make any physical indication of calling Josh Thole safe at second base…he just stood there.  Then he didn’t even bother to tell (say to) Thole that the ball hit by Dickey was a fair ball and that he didn’t need to go back to first base.  

Talk about umpire bias.  That umpire must like the Phillies.  The umpire watched Thole the whole time and saw the whole thing unfold.  That incident should have never happened and he shouldn’t be allowed to umpire another baseball game ever again if you ask me.  Fortunately for that umpire, the Mets still beat the Phillies 5-2.

Below this paragraph is a hyperlink to a play similar to Josh Thole’s and this play was even worse.  To watch the video of the baseball play that I want you to see, click on the hyperlink below and then click on the “Video” tab at the top of the screen where it also says the words “Wrap,” “CLE Recap,” “KC Recap,” “Box,” “Play-by-play,” and “Photos.”  Then click on the video titled “Must C: Curious.”

Here are my thoughts from the above hyperlink: This play happened on Monday, April 18th, 2011.  It was a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals (the home team).  Unlike Thole’s play, everybody “assumed” that Kansas City’s Billy Butler was called out because of the “area play” second base umpires usually give to the defense as an out (whether or not a defensive player actually touches second base) but in this case Butler was called safe.
To second base umpire Joe West’s defense Butler could clearly see before sliding that the Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera didn’t touch second base.  However, Butler as a baserunner has a job to do by trying to break up a double play by sliding so a player doesn’t really know if one is safe or out.  Also, Butler was about to slide by the time the baseball got to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and a baserunner cannot really look up at a fielder when a baserunner is trying to slide.

Just like the umpire in the Josh Thole incident, second base umpire Joe West made no effort to even bother to at least use hand signals to signal “Safe!” or “Out!”  Joe West actually should have tried to talk to (say something to) Butler because there’s no way he could have assumed that he was safe and plus Butler didn’t even ask for timeout.  Joe West even watched the entire play unfold too…just like the umpire in the Josh Thole incident.  Joe West really should be banned from umpiring another baseball game at any level.  The Royals ended up losing to the Indians 7-3 in ten innings.

Below this sentence is a hyperlink to a call of a play that I disagree with.  

To begin my thoughts from the above hyperlink, the Reds baserunner Drew Stubbs in my opinion shouldn’t have even bothered to try to get to third base as the first time I watched this video highlight I knew that Stubbs was going to be called “Out!”  The team the Cincinnati Reds were playing (the St. Louis Cardinals) were the home team and the Cardinals are the reigning World Champions.  Also, the reigning World Series MVP in David Freese (who I dislike) put the tag on Stubbs.

I think the Cardinals third baseman David Freese if he wanted the call to be “Out!” should have actually put a hard tag on Drew Stubbs the Reds baserunner and not this light, nice, and unhurtful tag which I guess I’m going to call…a “love tap.”  Actually, Freese did put a hard tag on Stubbs which is probably why I think the umpire called Stubbs out.  What’s with this “love tap” that almost all the defensive players in Major League Baseball (MLB) are doing these days?  Freese did put a quick tag on Stubbs which is why I think it looked like a “love tap.”  Actually, before I looked closely at the tag that Freese applied to Stubbs, I thought the tag was very light so I guess I’ll have to look at “love tap” like tags again more closely and in the future.
Stubbs has an argument that he almost fell down because of the very hard tag that Freese placed on him.  I think the last video shot of the play clearly shows that Stubbs barely touched third base before Freese tagged him although the play was really close.  Stubbs’ body language also showed that he was trying to avoid Freese’s tag.

Freese’s body language shows that he wanted Stubbs to safely be on third base.  Freese couldn’t have positioned himself closer to third base?  Not to mention, Carlos Beltran the right fielder who fielded that ball couldn’t have made a better throw to Freese?  Beltran is probably one of the most hard-nosed players and best outfielders you will find in MLB.

The third base umpire reacted with an undercut “Out!” hand signal and his body language to me showed that his decision was based solely on either Carlos Beltran, David Freese, the fans in St. Louis, and/or that he was too cold or too warm and that he wanted to put on some more comfortable clothing at the end of the inning so that he could focus more on umpiring.  Okay, so the umpire’s hand signal wasn’t “undercut,” but it was barely an overhanded hand signal, he made the decision just barely above his waist in like that he can barely keep his balance, and that he kept his hand signal close to the side of his body.

If the third base umpire really wanted to stand firm and have authority with his decision, I think he would have been smarter to have done the overhanded punching signal motion and not the barely overhanded signal motion.  Had he done that instead, there would have been no way that he could have lost that decision since he is of the age where if he can do that motion (and not get physically hurt) then he should be able to have the authority to do almost anything and knows what he is doing in terms of his employment.

The fans at New Busch Stadium reacted like the call shouldn’t have gone the Cardinals way and they just cheered because Cardinals fans (like Yankees fans) will take anything that they can get.  The Cardinals ended up winning this game 2-1 but the Reds probably would have won had Stubbs been called “Safe!”

The hyperlink below this sentence is actually a play that I completely agree with.  

My thoughts from the above hyperlink are: The baseball would have been foul had it not hit the right knee of the Texas Rangers batter Alberto Gonzalez.  But the momentum of the pitch was so strong that I agree that to not let that play unfold just because of a supposed “foul ball” (which I think the Detroit Tigers were arguing) would be a big mistake. 

I mean if you are a Tigers fan, would you want to be down by 1 run or down by 4 runs (had the Tigers won their argument and then Alberto Gonzalez could have gotten another opportunity and hit a grand slam) heading into the bottom of the 11th inning?  The Rangers ended up winning the game 3-2 in 11 innings.

Well, I had fun typing this article.  I hope you all see that baseball umpires show quite a few flaws in relatively easy situations (for instance, when the benches don’t clear).  Umpire flaws can also be good in that their calls are subjective and not objective (so your favorite team could make the playoffs thankfully as a result of an umpire’s subjective decision).

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