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Joe Torre talks about umpires, makes very little sense

Jul 8, 2011, 5:40 PM EDT

Ron Washington, Joe West, Angel Hernandez

Joe Torre was on Colin Cowherd’s radio show yesterday. The topic of discussion: Umpires Gone Wild. Or, rather, the recent dustups between Joe West’s crew and, well, everyone.

Now to be clear, Joe Torre has a tough job here. He has his job mostly because he’s a respected figure who players and coaches and stuff won’t second guess when he metes out discipline or proposes change. He’s been there, and has legitimacy in that world, with those people.

The umpire stuff is a bit different, however, in that they probably view him as the guy they argued with for years, and who may not appreciate their job in an objective fashion. And of course, there’s an entire overlay of labor/union issues with umpires that, if Torre is able to deftly manage, it’s because he picked it up someplace else other than in Major League dugouts for the past 50 years or so.  In light of that, it’s understandable if he treads a bit more carefully when he’s asking about umpiring than if he’s asked about, say, player discipline.

With that caveat, however, can we still agree that this exchange, with Cowherd asking the question and Torre answering, makes no sense:

Do you believe we should tweak the system where a bad umpire in baseball can be demoted?

“I think certainly there is a responsibility with umpires. They are all aware of that. If we find that responsibility isn’t being lived up to then we address it. Does that mean are you going to say that you are going to be fired? No. I think you have to find a number of ways to try to fix it especially if you feel the umpire is talented and I know you are talking about the issue of temperament and stuff like that. In that temperament, the only way, and I’m not trying to be the authority on this, but I managed for 20 years and if you have a player who can sometimes be a problem because of his temperament, but he has a great deal of ability and he can help your club win ball games you gotta try and find a way to make it fit. That’s where I am with the umpires as far as what we can and can’t do? That remains to be seen, but we certainly are aware of it and we are working on it.”

Actually, ballplayers really aren’t given as much latitude when it comes to temperament as people like to think. Sure, as long as they’re producing at a super elite level they’re OK, but the minute they drop off, baseball players with bad attitudes or baggage get shuttled out of the game a bit more quickly than their skill sets might otherwise call for.

But even if that wasn’t true, the comparison between umpires and players in this regard is not an apt one. There are scores, maybe hundreds, of outstanding umpires throughout minor league baseball who could call balls and strikes and safe vs. out just as good if not better than the guys in the majors. Yes, there’s a promotion system like there is with players, but it’s nowhere near the meritocracy that it is for players, as there are so few jobs at the top and so little turnover.

Put simply: there is a huge supply of competent umpiring talent just waiting for the chance to move up, and nowhere near the chasm between the talented and the not-as-talented in the umpire ranks as there is in the player ranks.  In light of that, baseball should be even less tolerant of umps with attitude issues, not more.  They should be treated as what they are: replaceable. At least within reason.

  1. cur86 - Jul 8, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    I wonder what Utley the Hairball will have to say about this (?)

    I that Joe’s losing it… senility is setting in!

    • yankeesfanlen - Jul 8, 2011 at 8:49 PM


    • drmonkeyarmy - Jul 8, 2011 at 9:17 PM

      Fake Cur,
      Two questions: First, why did you make your handle Cur86 immediately after the real Cur said he was leaving for awhile? Second, what is your problem with Utley’s Hair?

  2. Roger Moore - Jul 8, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    There are really two aspects to the question of meritocracy. One is that we don’t have as good a set of metrics to judge umpires as we do to judge players. It’s only recently that we’ve had any kind of reliable statistical information about how good umpires are at basic things like calling balls and strikes. It’s like trying to judge which players are the best in the game based purely on scouting reports.

    More important, though, is that players have not just a promotion system but also a demotion system. Players who can’t hack it at the major league level are identified and either demoted or released. Sometimes it takes longer than we’d like before management recognizes that a player has lost it, but it usually doesn’t take that long. With umpires, though, there’s no demotion for falling below the standards of the guys in the minors. One an ump makes it at the big league level, he’s on the gravy train. That’s bad not just because the bad umps aren’t being purged but also because it means the lazy umps don’t have the motivation to stay at the top of their game. There’s no accountability when there’s no penalty for failure.

  3. offseasonblues - Jul 8, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    Craig, I don’t think you needed to use Torre’s name or comments in this headline / blog entry. Your excellent point about MLB umpires being replaceable stands on its own.

    Why are they so immune from normal accountability?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 8, 2011 at 8:48 PM

      Let’s be clear as well, that’s there two separate issues of accountability here. First the problem of getting things right and wrong. To me, those are the guys who, if a pattern of bad calls develop, should be demoted to the minors until their earn their way back in (and not talking about a 0.01 sec difference either, talking about blatant calls like the Mauer “foul ball” against the Yanks in the postseason).

      Then there’s the issue with hothead umpires who think the fans came to see them. For me, if a pattern develops, these guys should be fired outright.

  4. sknut - Jul 8, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    If MLB was more transparent about bad umpires, I think fans and teams would be more satisfied. If a player has a bad series he sits, why can’t that happen with umpires. Especially when they make a fool of players and mangers, you can’t have it where the manager gets fined for showing up the ump but the ump has no visible consequences when they show somebody up.

  5. Walk - Jul 8, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    I believe more transperency is needed as well. Several times i have commented on the problems of keeping the discipline of umpires private. For instance if an umpire and a player argue and both cross the line and are punished the players punishment is apparent and the umpires is not. This may lead to a career long problem between players and certain umpires. I believe it would help players and umpires settle their differences if the umpires discipline was made clear. Right now all we get is that they may have had to talk to someone, no idea if they were punished or not, and the players possibly feeling like they were the only one disciplined. I am sure there is more going on with punishments for umpires but every time i see the same umpires doing the same thing over and over again makes me think that whatever system of censure they use it is ineffective. The first step to fixing that is acknowledging it is not working. That being said i believe umpires do an amazing job and if you need instant replay and slow motion at home just to prove them wrong, something they have limited or no access to on the field, well there is no way i can argue with their call on that particuliar play. But again it is the same umpires that are giving all the rest a bad name. They are easy to pick out once an argument starts, they are the ones that follow a player off the field and back to the dugout baiting them so they can eject them. I have clapped numerous times to support umpires when i was at a game when i could see them turning their back and walking away a bit to avoid an arguement, or even dusting off the plate to give a catcher who just took a foul ball off their body a bit of a break, those are great umpires and i am glad they outnumber the joe wests of the world.

  6. yankeesfanlen - Jul 8, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    Did Joe teach Jeter to talk this way, or vice-versa?

  7. ernestbynershands - Jul 9, 2011 at 4:08 AM

    Umps are the way they are because they are beholden to noone.
    Just like cops, judges and executives. They are made to believe they are the smartest in the room. They believe are always right.
    No better way to check them than to fire a couple, demote a couple or take away their food per diem.

  8. danberman4 - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    I’m not so sure there are “scores” of talented umpires in the minors who could do the job. I think the job is really tough and there are much harder parts to it than calling balls and strikes. You have to be decisiveAND right when making cals. You have to be able to take being screamed at in front of 50,000 people without losing your cool. There are some really bad umps — Joe West especially — who should go. But we have seen replacement umps come up when the regulars are off and they are not always so great. Sometimes they even look nervous out there.

  9. Reggie's Bush - Jul 9, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    No mention of the Mets getting straight hosed the last 2 games vs the Dodgers? By the same ump?

    Uribe was thrown out at home by like a full 4 seconds, in plain sight of this ump and he was called safe; Terry Collins came out and argued for a full 5 minutes and did not get ejected. YOU DO NOT GIVE KERSHAW FREE RUN SUPPORT, we lost by 6 anyway. The previous day what should have been a double play turns into a fielder’s choice thanks to that same umps ineptitude, Matt Kemp was out by a full step; Terry Collins comes out to argue and ump admits mistake, Neise gives up a run and is pisssssed.

    Fracking Crap.

    • ngearhart1981 - Jul 11, 2011 at 11:17 AM

      I didn’t even read your comment; I gave you a thumbs up for the nickname “Reggie’s Bush”.

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