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Friday, October 16, 2009
Blame umpiring on injuries

According to Tracy Ringolsby, there's a hidden reason for the apparently subpar umpiring we've seen this month ...
The situation makes me wonder about MLB's retirement policy for umpires. You get the impression that veteran umpires are like Supreme Court justices or Bud Seligs: they'll quit when they think it's time, not when anyone else does. I understand the rational with the judges; the notion is that they should not be subject to political pressures. But, should umpires be allowed to umpire forever?

Practically speaking, older umpires occupy slots that would otherwise be held by younger umpires, who presumably be 1) learning their trade at the highest level, and 2) more likely to be healthy enough to work in October.

But of course all those injured and (mostly) older umpires are just one part of the problem. Ringolsby:
Physically or mentally worn down during the showcase events? The umpires can work for weeks on end during the regular season, but they can't work 14 games -- at the very most over the course of three weeks? Really?

Naturally enough, the umpires just don't want to work any harder than they have to. And while there is a moderate financial incentive for them to work postseason games, every full-time umpire receives a standard postseason bonus whether he works postseason games or not (which is of course to soothe the tender feelings of the umpires who are not selected).

Anyway, it's obviously not any ideal system. If Major League Baseball asks the most fundamental of questions -- "If we weren't already doing it this way, is this how we would do it?" -- the answer must almost certainly be no. Fortunately, Major League Baseball has the perfect chance to ask that question. Because according to Ringolsby, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the World Umpires Association expires at the end of this year. Nobody's got any excuse if the umpiring isn't better in 2010 than it's been this fall.