A lot - I mean a real lot - has been written about the Angel Hernandez blown call, and then the blown replay, in Wednesday night's game between Cleveland and Oakland. It is a problem that lacks any real, satisfying solution. The A's lost a game-tying run. They are a contender in a tough division - that run, and that game,may be important for them in the grand scheme of the season. That stinks for them.
Some have called for the game to be stopped and replayed, as if it were an official rules protest, but as many have countered, that sets a pretty unworkable precedent. "How bad does a call have to be to replay a game" is just not a road we should be going down. What if the call had been in the first inning? What if it had cut the deficit from two runs to one, instead of tying it? What if the teams hadn't been playing the next day? Much of the calls to replay the game seemed to stem from the fact that it was convenient to do so. A decision like this shouldn't be made based on convenience.
Instead of cancelling the game, the response of Major League Baseball has been much more interesting. In my view, they've basically thrown Hernandez - who is a terrible umpire - under the bus. They haven't announced sweeping changes or rule discussions or anything, because they can't really. MLB can't fire Hernandez. I'm not sure that they can suspend him. They can't, in any workable way, reverse his decision. They CAN, however, publicly shame Hernandez and the rest of the umpire hierarchy into changing the way things are done, and they are doing that by making the public as mad as possible.
It's expected to have ESPN and other independent sports news outlets focus on the blown call. It's less so to have MLB.com, the official site of major league baseball doing the same. Why would they do this? They WANT people to be mad. Why? Because MLB isn't one autonomous being, with a straightforward mission and a way to enact it. It's a group of organizations, made up of several groups playing within a specific set of rules. The owners essentially have formed a trust. While there points of disagreement within ownership, I'd guess that everyone, even the useless robber baron Jeffrey Loria, wants games to be officiated as well and fairly as possible. The players union, while often directly in disagreement with the owners, are on the same page on this one. The umpires, however? What is their goal. Ostensibly, it is to officiate as well as possible, but it's also important to them to keep their jobs, as it is for any of us. Who among us, when something has gone wrong at work that we were responsible for, didn't shift at least some of the blame elsewhere, if only onto a process or technology or something benign. Self-protection is a factor here.
Like I said earlier, Angel Hernandez can't really be fired for incompetence. In general, I think it should be hard to fire people willy-nilly. Hernandez is a bad employee though. He was a bad umpire even before he made it to majors, as this Buffalo News article points out. The man was a lousy minor league umpire in 1991. He's been a lousy major league umpire for a long time. He just blew a major call. TWICE. The argument against instant replay is that it removes the human element. Well, apparently not when you have an incompetent, arrogant rube watching the replay.
And THAT is why MLB is bringing attention to Hernandez situation, rather than sweeping it under the rug. Hernandez IS incompetent, and should be disciplined, but really can't be. The powers that be are trying to get people furious enough that they demand change. They are essentially union-busting. The umpires union, a legitimate organization that consists generally of competent, hard-working officials, has an Angel Hernandez problem. The longer it takes them to solve it, the worse they are going to come out of this.