Call 'em like I see 'em (cont.)
Posted: Friday March 30, 2007 11:29AM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 11:31AM
Thanks to changes made by Sandy Alderson before he left his role in Major League Baseball to become president of the Padres, umpires do a much better job of getting calls right by convening with one other when there is doubt.
Tschida missed a call in the 1999 ALCS on a phantom tag by Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch on Boston infielder Jose Offerman. The umpires did not convene then, though Tschida pointed out that the other base umpires didn't have a clear look at the play because of their angle to it and they, too, thought Knoblauch made the tag.
"But when I got back in the locker room after the game, Al Clark, the home plate umpire, never said a word," Tschida said. "That's when I knew." Tschida admitted in a press conference he missed the call. He agreed that the umpires would have huddled to compare notes if the same play occurred today.
Most umpires don't use clickers, the hand-held manual devices that keep track of the count and outs. Major-league scoreboards do a good job of monitoring the count.
Umpires don't rub up baseballs with mud anymore -- clubhouse attendants do. The clubbies have been doing so for years, but the rule officially was changed this year so that umpires only are required to make sure they are in game condition, not to rub them up themselves.
Umpires do frequently rub them up for spring training games, however, because clubhouse managers don't have as many assistants in spring training as they do in the regular season. The mud is used to take the shine and slickness off new baseballs. Umpire Tim Timmons adds his own special sauce: tobacco juice. "The enzymes help the mud work better," he said.
You can tell how many years of service an umpire has by how a hitter argues.
"If you're a younger umpire he goes, 'Man, that was outside,''' Tschida said. "If you're an older umpire, he goes, 'Was that outside?' Same beef. Different style."
Zoom lenses on TV cameras have cut down on pitchers defacing the ball. Most pitchers don't even know how to use a ball that is unintentionally scuffed.
"They don't want them," Tschida said. "Starters will want them if they are around the 100-pitch mark, if they're running out of bullets. Early in the game they think they're strong enough and fresh enough to control the [unmarked] ball."
Day games are brutal for infielders and umpires in ballparks where fans are sitting in a direct line to the hitting zone.
"It's almost impossible to see the ball off the bat, like at Dodger Stadium," Tschida said. "Infielders will say it all the time to me: 'I never saw it.'''
The game I worked was at the Red Sox's spring home, City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, where a roof casts the fans in a shadow, giving contrast to the sunlit hitting area, so the visibility was fine.
Said Culbreth, "If this was the Twins' [spring] park, I wouldn't feel good for you. I would be seriously concerned for you."
Umpires have a tradition in which a rookie umpire working his first big league game must tell a story or a joke as the lineup cards are exchanged at home plate before the game. I was ready. As Baltimore coach Tom Trebelhorn and Boston legend Johnny Pesky brought the cards to our crew, I was ready with a warning. I was going to talk about how I was the new guy from umpiring school, how I was given the crash course and graduated early with honors and a nickname: "Quick Trigger." I was going to tell Pesky that in the interest of full disclosure he should tell his entire bench to be very, very careful with what they said to Quick Trigger, especially that Terry Francona guy.
But here's what happened: Pesky never stopped talking. He kept joking with Trebelhorn. I tried to jump in with my warning when Pesky took a slight pause, but I barely got the umpire school part out when he just kicked back into gear again like I wasn't even there. The laugh was on me. I didn't mind in the least. The guy is 87 years old. He can talk as much as he wants.