MLB accuses Ángel Hernández of eavesdropping on phone call

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Well, this is interesting. Major League Baseball is claiming that umpire Ángel Hernández eavesdropped on an investigative phone call between then chief baseball officer Joe Torre and fellow umpire Ed Hickox, The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan reports.

On July 24, during a game between the Rays and Red Sox, Hernández got a couple of things wrong when Rays manager Kevin Cash moved pitcher Adam Kolarek to first base. Hernández “had to be reminded” that the Rays lost their designated hitter in doing so, and he failed to get Cash to configure a new lineup. The game was delayed 14 minutes due to confusion on the part of the umpiring crew. The league called Hernández, followed by Hickox, as part of an investigation into the matter. Hernández allegedly remained on the line and remained silent while he listened to the confidential conversation.

In a letter attached to legal filings, the league wrote to Hernández:

You acknowledged that you were aware prior to the calls that they were intended to be separate and did not dispute that you remained on the line. Instead, you offered a number of excuses for why you remained on the line. You claimed to not know whether you were supposed to stay on the line and that you wanted to be available if anything further was asked of you … your purported justification for staying on the line (to address any further questions) strains credulity in light of your claim that you only heard portions of the Hickox call and the fact that you remained silent even when you heard statements by Hickox that you later claimed to be inaccurate. Simply put, we find your asserted justifications for remaining on the line to be implausible, internally inconsistent, premised on facts that are incorrect and not credible. As a result, we have concluded that you remained on the line in an effort to intentionally and deceptively eavesdrop on a confidential conversation in order to hear what Hickox would say about the July 24 incident. This is an egregious offense.

Hernández’s lawyer, Kevin Murphy, claims that the allegation is retaliation by MLB. Hernández filed a lawsuit against MLB in 2017, alleging that the league discriminated against him and other minority umpires by continually not selecting them for World Series work. Hernández also claims that Torre still harbors a grudge from a call that went against the Yankees in 2001, when Torre was manager.

Hernández is a controversial umpire, to put it mildly. Ian Kinsler, with the Tigers in 2017, said of Hernández, “He needs to find another job.” In 2018 during a game between the Yankees and Angels, Hernández and pitcher CC Sabathia exchanged words over the strike zone. Sabathia said, “Don’t talk to me. Call f–king strikes!” Hernández had three calls overturned in the first four innings of ALDS Game 3 between the Red Sox and Yankees in 2018. Afterwards, Sabathia said, “He shouldn’t be anywhere near these playoff games.” A.J. Hinch, then the manager of the Astros, was ejected from a spring training game by Hernández last year. In the postgame media scrum, Hinch described Hernández as “unprofessional” and “arrogant.”

All this being said, everything surrounding Hernández deserves some nuance. That he is a bad umpire and eavesdropped on a confidential phone call does not mean his discrimination lawsuit is without merit, though if true weakens his credibility. The discrimination lawsuit is still ongoing. MLB wants the New York federal court dismiss the lawsuit.