Anthony Rizzo not happy with Ángel Hernández’s strike call to end Sunday’s game

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Trailing the Padres 10-5 entering the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday, the Cubs put together the beginning of a rally. Ben Zobrist homered to lead off the frame. When Anthony Rizzo stepped up to the plate with two outs, the Cubs had a runner on first base. Not very likely to win from that point, but still possible. The Cubs, entering Sunday a game up on the Brewers in the NL Central, are playing anything but a meaningless game, even against the lowly Padres.

Rizzo went ahead 3-1, then swung and missed at a splitter to run the count full. After fouling off a fastball, Kirby Yates came back with another fastball outside. Catcher Austin Hedges did a nice job of framing the pitch, which home plate umpire Ángel Hernández deemed a strike, ending the ballgame. Rizzo was understandably upset about the call and started pleading his case to Hernández, who walked up the first base line. Rizzo walked with him. To Rizzo’s credit, he was calm, cool, and collected, appearing to make a rational case to Hernández. There was no yelling, no dramatic gesticulations. Nothing that would show up Hernández. Nevertheless, the game went down as a 10-6 loss for the Cubs.

After the game, Rizzo was still miffed by the botched call. Per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, Rizzo said, “That call is unacceptable. Angel told me to look at it. I looked at it, and he’s wrong. And I would like for him to confirm that. That can’t happen. That can’t happen in the major leagues, at Wrigley Field, at any field.”

MLB.com doesn’t allow embed code for this video for some reason but you can click here to watch it. It’s very clearly a bad call by Hernández. That is even confirmed by MLB’s own pitch-tracking software:

Hernández is a bit of a lightning rod when it comes to umpiring. Rizzo is far from the only player to have had a problem with him. Just in recent memory, CC Sabathia and Ian Kinsler have each publicly criticized him. Hall of Famer Chipper Jones once said he loved it when Hernández’s calls were overturned with instant replay because his Twitter feed would light up as his fans know how much animus he has for the ump.

What frustrates players and fans is the lack of accountability when it comes to umpires. When a player messes up, he can be benched, fined, suspended, etc. Umpires pretty much never have to own up to making poor calls. One of the only times in recent memory that a umpire publicly owned up to a mistake was Jim Joyce, who blew a call at first base that broke up Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game. The next day, Galarraga and a clearly-apologetic Joyce met at home plate.

The relationship between players and umpires would likely be improved manyfold if it felt like there was any degree of accountability. Some umpires are routinely combative with players, knowing full well the balance of power rests on their side and they won’t have to face the music for instigation. Meanwhile, consider that a player who touches an umpire in the heat of an argument will almost always face a fine and/or a suspension. An umpire would never.

One of the more heartwarming things I’ve seen in baseball lately was on July 26 when the Reds were in town to play the Phillies. This happened during the game:

This is much more common on the players’ side of things — Rizzo, in fact, has apologized to an umpire after realizing he was wrong — so it would be nice if that balanced out a bit. Umpires shouldn’t be able to hide their poor calls behind their authority. They should have to answer for them the same way players and coaches have to face the music for their mistakes. Players like Rizzo know that umpires are human and are going to make mistakes. The issue isn’t really about the mistakes. It’s about not being heard. Make the players (and fans) feel like they’re being heard and all will be well.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.