Joe Torre was on Colin Cowherd’s radio show yesterday. The topic of discussion: Umpires Gone Wild. Or, rather, the recent dustups between Joe West’s crew and, well, everyone.
Now to be clear, Joe Torre has a tough job here. He has his job mostly because he’s a respected figure who players and coaches and stuff won’t second guess when he metes out discipline or proposes change. He’s been there, and has legitimacy in that world, with those people.
The umpire stuff is a bit different, however, in that they probably view him as the guy they argued with for years, and who may not appreciate their job in an objective fashion. And of course, there’s an entire overlay of labor/union issues with umpires that, if Torre is able to deftly manage, it’s because he picked it up someplace else other than in Major League dugouts for the past 50 years or so. In light of that, it’s understandable if he treads a bit more carefully when he’s asking about umpiring than if he’s asked about, say, player discipline.
With that caveat, however, can we still agree that this exchange, with Cowherd asking the question and Torre answering, makes no sense:
Do you believe we should tweak the system where a bad umpire in baseball can be demoted?
“I think certainly there is a responsibility with umpires. They are all aware of that. If we find that responsibility isn’t being lived up to then we address it. Does that mean are you going to say that you are going to be fired? No. I think you have to find a number of ways to try to fix it especially if you feel the umpire is talented and I know you are talking about the issue of temperament and stuff like that. In that temperament, the only way, and I’m not trying to be the authority on this, but I managed for 20 years and if you have a player who can sometimes be a problem because of his temperament, but he has a great deal of ability and he can help your club win ball games you gotta try and find a way to make it fit. That’s where I am with the umpires as far as what we can and can’t do? That remains to be seen, but we certainly are aware of it and we are working on it.”
Actually, ballplayers really aren’t given as much latitude when it comes to temperament as people like to think. Sure, as long as they’re producing at a super elite level they’re OK, but the minute they drop off, baseball players with bad attitudes or baggage get shuttled out of the game a bit more quickly than their skill sets might otherwise call for.
But even if that wasn’t true, the comparison between umpires and players in this regard is not an apt one. There are scores, maybe hundreds, of outstanding umpires throughout minor league baseball who could call balls and strikes and safe vs. out just as good if not better than the guys in the majors. Yes, there’s a promotion system like there is with players, but it’s nowhere near the meritocracy that it is for players, as there are so few jobs at the top and so little turnover.
Put simply: there is a huge supply of competent umpiring talent just waiting for the chance to move up, and nowhere near the chasm between the talented and the not-as-talented in the umpire ranks as there is in the player ranks. In light of that, baseball should be even less tolerant of umps with attitude issues, not more. They should be treated as what they are: replaceable. At least within reason.