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Nothing But Complaints

10.11.09 at 5:00 pm ET
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If anyone wondered why C.B. Bucknor was twice voted the worst umpire in MLB in Sports Illustrated polls, they got their answer Thursday night when the Red Sox lost Game 1 of the ALDS 5-0 to the Angels. Bucknor made the wrong call not once but twice. In the fourth inning, he ruled Angels baserunner Howie Kendrick safe at first, saying that Kevin Youkilis failed to tag him after Alex Gonzalez‘ throw pulled Youkilis off the bag. In the sixth inning, he incorrectly concluded that Youkilis did not touch the base following a high toss from Mike Lowell — this call was even more embarrassingly wrong than the first.

Not surprisingly, both Youkilis and manager Terry Francona shared their discontent with Bucknor about the blown calls.

This year, players have regularly expressed their dissatisfaction with umpires. Whether it be arguing balls and strikes, claiming that a slide into home beat a tag, or disputing that a hit was fair or foul, players and coaches have been quick to make public their displeasure with MLB umpires. Thursday night was not the first time an umpire missed a call, nor will it be the last.

You would think that umpires would be more vigilant after drawing a whirlwind of criticism following the Red Sox-Angels game. On Friday night, the umpiring crew officiating Game 2 of the Twins-Yankees ALDS blundered in another key call. Left field umpire Phil Cuzzi declared that Joe Mauer‘s hit was a foul ball when it should have been ruled a ground-rule double.

With no outs in the top of the 11th inning, Mauer launched a ball down the left field line that skimmed the glove of Melky Cabrera and then bounced fair before one-hopping into the stands. Cuzzi messed up on both counts and ruled it a foul ball, sending Mauer back to the plate. Though he ended up singling, Mauer certainly would have scored from second base on the next two Twins hits. The Twins ultimately concluded the inning leaving the bases loaded and failing to score before Mark Teixeira hit a walk-off home run in the bottom half of the frame to give the Yankees a 4-3 win.

Yes, it may be just a tad bit embarrassing to become the first team in MLB history to blow a three-game divisional lead with only four games remaining in the regular season. Yet, after dropping a 6-5 defeat in 12 innings in Tuesday’s one-game playoff loss to the Twins, the Tigers were not quite ready to walk out of the Metrodome for the last time without having a couple of things to say about the umpiring.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland not only shamed his own team, but also showed his frustration with the umpiring crew, noting that a missed hit-by-pitch call with Brandon Inge up and the bases loaded in the top half of the 12th would have given the Tigers a 6-5 advantage.

One of the first incidents this season that resulted in a suspension from arguing a call came unsurprisingly from none other than the contentious Milton Bradley. On April 16, Bradley was ejected in his Wrigley Field debut with the Cubs after vehemently disagreeing with a called third strike in his pinch-hit at-bat in the sixth inning. Two days later, Bradley received his punishment in the form of a two-game suspension and an undisclosed fine. He appealed the punishment and got the suspension reduced to one game. Chicago fanatics may have applauded his passion and furor then, but now they have a different outlook after his ill-advised comments about the team earned him an indefinite suspension despite Bradley offering an apology.

The captain of the Yankees, normally known for keeping his composure, expressed his dissatisfaction this season as well. On July 6, Derek Jeter had some not-too-kind words to share with umpire Marty Foster after Foster ruled Jeter out on his attempt to steal third in a 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays. The shortstop correctly insisted that he slid around the tag, but Foster replied, “He didn’t have to tag you. The ball beat you.” This comment sparked even more controversy than the blown call, since Foster essentially disregarded the rules of the game. After the game, even Foster’s crew chief, John Hirschbeck, questioned his fellow ump’s judgment.

When the final out or the winning run of a game comes down to an umpiring decision, a blown call becomes even more controversial, especially in the eyes of the losing team. On Sept. 16, the Angels were outraged when Red Sox batter Nick Green was granted a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie a game that the Sox would eventually win 9-8.

With the game on the line, Angels closer Brian Fuentes thought he got Green out on a swinging strike three, but it was ruled that Green held his bat to a check swing. Later in the at-bat, Fuentes delivered a full-count fastball to Green that was knee-high and down the middle. When home plate umpire Rick Reed failed to ring up Green, manager Mike Scioscia and the Angels protested vehemently.

The next day, however, the Angels were not the only ones complaining. The umpires took issue with the verbal abuse they received from the Angels as they walked off the field. Stating that the Angels acted “unprofessional and unbecoming,” the umpires struck back by filing a grievance.

Even when umpires do seem to get calls right, still there are critics. On May 17, Rays manager Joe Maddon mistakenly listed both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist as playing third base on the lineup card. Maddon intended to give Longoria a day off from the field, but accidentally wrote third base next to his name instead of DH. The Rays were forced to forfeit the DH and have the pitcher bat as a result. However, the mix-up worked to their advantage as starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine hit in place of Longoria and contributed quite nicely with an RBI double in the 7-5 win over the Indians.

Even though the correct ruling was made, the umpires came under some criticism for taking 13 minutes to make their decision. Even Mike Port, MLB’s executive in charge of overseeing the umps, questioned the delay. To make matters worse, later in the game the umps messed up a call that gave the Rays a big break. In the eighth inning, Cleveland’s Ryan Garko hit a deep drive to left with one out. It was ruled that Rays outfielder Carl Crawford caught the ball for an out, but replays indicated the ball went off the padding first and should have been called a hit.

There are a magnitude of close calls that can go either way in every game that is played. A team loves an umpire when a ruling falls in its favor, and despises one when the decision goes against it. With so many plays occurring in a blink of an eye, it’s difficult for an umpire to make the correct call 100 percent of the time.

After all, they do pay attention … right?

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