Angel Hernandez, widely considered to be one of Major League Baseball’s worst umpires, had home plate duties in last night’s Giants-Athletics game. And he was pretty much Angel Hernandez.
Based on the tweets, comments and blog posts of folks who watched the game, Hernandez had his typically inconsistent and wide-to-the-right-side strike zone, causing pitchers and hitters from both teams to shake their heads in frustration. Then Hernandez went to his signature move, turning a merely poorly-umped game into a game with an umpire-player confrontation.
Hernandez called an extremely questionable balk on Jean Machi in the eighth inning. Machi was upset and started yelling at Hernandez. You can watch the overall argument here. One thing you can’t see in that video — but which was relayed by several second accounts such as this one — is that catcher Buster Posey attempted to get between them and calm the situation, only to have Hernandez yell, “Don’t push me” at Posey, as if Posey were actually trying to escalate, rather than defuse the situation. Bruce Bochy argued for a long time, using a lot of colorful language, but did not get tossed. Which, oftentimes, is the sign of an umpire who actually realized he messed up and is letting someone blow off steam.
After the game, Giants announcer Duane Kuiper was unusually frank but 100% honest in his assessment of Hernandez, saying “Angel Hernandez is not a good umpire and, in my opinion, he does not belong in the big leagues. And I think Major League Baseball knows this, they just don’t know how to get rid of him.”
He’s correct about that. Perhaps if more people closer to the game such as broadcasters and influential folks in the media were more willing to say this as frankly as Kuiper did, Major League Baseball would do something about it.
We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.
As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.
Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.
As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.
While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.
Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.