There was an essay in the New York Times over the weekend about the state of umpiring. The author, Bruce Weber, who wrote a book about umpiring in 2009, says that replay would be bad a thing. Why? Well, human element and Alexander Cartwright and all of that. What does Weber think is preferable? Better training:
But instead of reducing the role of umpires by expanding replay, why not help them improve?
The way to do this is for baseball to begin thinking of umpires as they do players, as assets to be maximized.
Players, as they develop in the minor leagues, are overseen by major league clubs, but Major League Baseball plays a minimal role in the development of umpires. In fact, the system that feeds umpires to the big leagues is meant to encourage them to quit before they get there.
Weber suggests intensive, year-round training for umpires. Better pay when they’re in the minors. Recruitment of better candidates. Allowing umpires to make “subtle adjustments” in their technique in an effort to do better on close calls, what with how it’s almost impossible, Weber writes, for umps to be in the right position a lot of the time given that players are moving and jumping and that there are so many variables in play.
Interesting ideas, I guess, but at the end of the day I don’t see how any of that is preferable to simply letting a guy look at a screen and say seven words on a walkie talkie down to the field once or twice a game when there’s a close, blown call.
Indeed, the only argument Weber seems to have in opposition to that is that umpires are “part of the fabric of the game.” While I’m sure they’re a lot of nice umpires who take their craft seriously, the fans simply don’t care. We don’t want them gone — that would be weird — but at the same time, we don’t care about “encouraging them” or what have you. We want the calls right. That’s really the beginning and the end of it. If we’re going to spend time working on umpires, let’s work on their attitude and demeanor and keep ugly scenes between players and umps from happening. But as far as a the calls are concerned, let the umpires continue to make them all. Just let someone with a better, video-enhanced view correct the small handful of mistakes that happen during a game.