Once more, singing blues over umps

October 09, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Pat Gillick is sick of it. We're all sick of it. Umpires shouldn't decide postseason games. Especially not umpires whose performance during the regular season merits a harsh evaluation, not an October paycheck.

"Every time you go to the general managers' meetings, the umpires have been on the agenda, for 25 years," said Gillick, the Orioles' outgoing GM. "It's been a problem, one that baseball has never addressed."

The hope of Gillick and others is that former Oakland GM Sandy Alderson will tackle the issue directly in his newly created position as executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office.

But in the meantime, the umpires are the story of the postseason -- again.

Plate umpire Joe Brinkman lost control of Game 2 of the Division Series between Boston and Cleveland, ejecting Indians pitcher Dwight Gooden and manager Mike Hargrove.

Plate umpire Ted Hendry was a horror show in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday -- even before the bunt controversy erupted in the 12th inning.

No one in Baltimore will feel sorry for the New York Yankees.

From Don Mattingly's disputed homer in 1993 to Jeffrey Maier's fan interference in the '96 ALCS to Scott Brosius' phantom out on Jeff Reboulet on July 4, the Orioles repeatedly have been jobbed at Yankee Stadium, and it's about time things started evening out.

No one should feel sorry for the Yankees, either. Not when Chuck Knoblauch -- "Chuck Brainlauch" on the New York Post back page -- committed the cardinal sin of arguing with an umpire before play was dead. And not when the Yankees blew the game long before Hendry blew the interference call on Travis Fryman.

Orioles catcher Lenny Webster knows all about the horrors that await when a member of the Indians squares to bunt in October, but the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position Wednesday, and failed to score in the ninth after advancing a runner to second with none out.

The Orioles were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in Game 1 of the '96 ALCS. The Yankees' first two runs in that 5-4, 11-inning victory resulted from defensive misplays. Armando Benitez walked Darryl Strawberry with two outs to force in another run. But no one remembers.

All anyone remembers is the umps -- specifically, right-field umpire Rich Garcia, who blew the fan-interference call on Derek Jeter's game-tying, eighth-inning homer off Benitez.

And now Hendry.

"I'd have to say it was one of the worst calls. But I've seen some bad ones, both ways. I've seen them go for us, too," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said after Game 2, no doubt referring to the Maier incident.

"I just say, let's get this umpiring organized. Get it under Major League Baseball. Not two sets of rules, two sets of strike zones. And let's get the good umpires. When we're in the playoffs, let's go with the best we've got, not on a seniority basis. That's crazy. Go on a merit basis."

Said Gillick yesterday: "It's back to the same old story -- you've got to have a real stringent review process. They've got to be reviewed constantly. If there are problems with umpires, if they continue to make mistakes, the lower-rated guys have got to be gone."

Marty Springstead, the AL's executive director of umpiring, said yesterday that the league indeed rates its umpires, with former major-leaguers Johnny Roseboro and Billy Sample submitting quarterly reports during the regular season.

But Springstead acknowledged that seniority is a factor in determining which umpires work the postseason.

"It's a combination of both," Springstead said. "It's merit, but you have to spread it out. You can't put all your horses in one event."

Why not?

"I don't think they'd want to -- too much pressure," Springstead said. "That's a union thing that would have to be worked out. That's all in their contract."

Ah yes, the umpires union.

A group with more clout than Kenneth Starr, for reasons no one quite understands.

Springstead said the AL uses 24 umps for the All-Star Game and postseason. The three selected for the World Series also work the Division Series, but, otherwise, nobody gets more than one round.

Thus, the World Series umpires are held out of the LCS -- and in the NL, the Division Series, too. Springstead said he also tries to avoid using umps in back-to-back championship series. Eventually, almost everyone gets a turn.

No other sport applies such backward standards to the selection of its postseason officials. But no other sport lives in fear of Richie Phillips, head of the umpires union.

Major League Baseball should have confronted the umpires two years ago, called their bluff when they threatened to boycott the postseason over Roberto Alomar, then fired them for violating their union contracts.

Instead, MLB threatened to seek an injunction to force the umpires to work, and reached a temporary settlement to avoid the embarrassment of replacement umps in the postseason.

Really, what would have been so horrible about that?

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