What's to be done about the umpires?

Well, at least they're going to talk. That's a first step. You just wonder if there's going to be a second step anytime soon. Amy K. Nelson:

    Multiple players have told ESPN.com that tensions have increased with umpires. They also are concerned about a lack of transparency when umpires are evaluated.

    "We never know why or when they are fined, or reprimanded or held accountable," Oakland Athletics reliever and player union representative Brad Ziegler said Thursday. "Anytime a player is punished, suspended or sent down to the minors, the public knows about it. It would be a lot easier to communicate with umpires if everyone was held to similar standards. Our statistics as players are a lot more quantifiable than the umpires'."

Well, yes, but umpires are not players.

Imagine that a player feigned being struck by a pitched ball. If an umpire responded by saying, "Sorry, I don't believe you," -- in essence, calling the player a liar -- nobody would care much. But if a player or manager accuses an umpire of outright dishonesty?

That doesn't work. If an umpire is accused of dishonesty, the league has two options: Punish the accuser or punish the accused. The question may not be unanswered.

An umpire's competence may be questioned (to a certain point, anyway). His integrity may not be. If you allow an umpire's integrity to be questioned -- or rather, if his integrity is questionable -- before long he's simply not able to perform his duties.

To some degree, the same is true of his authority. Today, as always, there is a shortage of accountability among the umpires. But let's say an umpire was demoted to the minor leagues due to incompetence. Upon his return to the majors, will he command the sort of respect he needs to do his job? Or will managers and players question every call, because his competence has already been officially questioned with such force?

I don't know. Maybe the baseball men are more charitable than I imagine. But I suspect the umpires would tell you that an umpire who's been demoted for cause will find his position untenable, should he earn his way back up.

Ultimately, there's probably not a great deal to be done in the short term. Yes, eventually the use of video review will be expanded, and that will be a good thing. But if there are lousy umpires in the majors right now, we're probably stuck with them. Our best hope is the next generation, which (we can only hope) will be more competent ... but not quite as confident that their jobs will be there for as long as they want them.