SweetSpot: Jamie Walker

Questioning umps' integrity

May, 1, 2009
From the mailbag, regarding my post Thursday about A-Rod and pitch-tipping:
    Quickly, one example of a hitter being tipped off about a forthcoming pitch was Mickey Mantle being told by both the pitcher (Denny McLain) and the catcher (I believe Mickey Cochrane?) that they were going to throw him a fastball. Nowadays, during "Tiger's History"-type programs, they always mention this in a cute, funny way, as if to say, "What a bunch of cool fellas!"

    I disagree with you wholeheartedly about Jamie Walker's criticism of the umpires. First off, you didn't even look at the darn play, so how the heck could you not say that the ump DIDN'T make a terrible call? And if he did make a terrible call, shouldn't HE be the one being penalized and criticized?

    But I also disagree with your idolatry of authority figures and your flagrantly bogus statements that umps are never wrong and they never have devious intentions. As we've seen with the NBA referee Tim Donaghy - which was NOT NOT NOT NOT an isolated incident, there was a ton of game fixing in the past decade -- and as we see in countless college football scams (including a lot of suspicion about a Big-10 referee crew in the past few years), this authority worship only leads to destroying the game.

    1) Umpires make bad calls.
    2) Bad calls should be pointed out.
    3) Umpires are human beings.
    4) Some human beings are dishonest.
    5) Some umpires have and will fixed games for profit (this is America, after all!) and they will continue to do so if we put them on some idiotic pedestal and say, as you did, that they are literally beyond reproach.

    Ironically, you seem to be well aware of some of MLB's funny business because you state the the umpires are going to be harming the Orioles intentionally the next time Walker pitches. Well, which is it: are the umps flawless gods or are they fallible, sometimes-malicious characters? Sincerely,
    David Brennan

Thanks for the note, David. That Mantle story is definitely one of those that was in the back of my mind when I mentioned that pitch-tipping's been around for a long time. I'm away from my books at the moment, but I believe that McLain was helping Mantle hit his 500th home run. I doubt if the catcher was Mickey Cochrane, since he played his last game in 1937 and Mantle didn't debut until 1951. You probably are thinking of Bill Freehan (an outstanding player who is far, far too often forgotten).

Now, about your other points ... Yes, umpires are highly fallible. Yes, occasionally an umpire will act with less than the greatest integrity. And, yes, when an umpire makes a terrible call, the umpire's supervisor should address it.

But how you get from there to permitting players to tailoring their calls to their wagers, I just don't know. If Jamie Walker really believes an umpire bet on the game -- and it's highly unlikely that he really believes that -- he should take it up with his employers, who may then take it up with the Commissioner's Office. But I hope that everyone reading this knows that you simply can't allow players to run around and accuse umpires of blowing calls on purpose. You do that, and the center cannot hold.

Walker fined, but not nearly enough

April, 30, 2009
There are some things you're just not supposed to do ...
    Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jamie Walker was fined by the commissioner's office Thursday for criticizing umpire Angel Hernandez.

    Hernandez called a balk on Walker during the seventh inning of Tuesday night's 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Camden Yards when the left-hander appeared to pick off Maicer Izturis. Three batters later, Kendry Morales hit a two-run double for a 7-4 lead.

    "It's a [terrible] call," Walker said. "I don't know if the guy's got something against me or what, but no way did I balk. It changed the whole game. ... It's unacceptable at this level."

    Bob Watson, baseball's vice president for discipline, imposed the fine.

    "Mr. Walker's comments were an inappropriate, unnecessary attack on umpire Hernandez's professionalism," Watson said. "Such comments impugning the integrity and impartiality of Angel Hernandez or any other member of the umpiring staff will not be tolerated."

    Phil Tannenbaum, Walker's agent, said the players' association had appealed the penalty.

If I were Jamie Walker and that was all I said, I would appeal the penalty, too. But according to Peter Schmuck, he said this: "No way in hell did I balk on that pitch. That was a horse---- call. I don't know if the guy has a problem with me or what, but it was a (expletive) call ... I don't know if he had money betting on the game, but that was a (expletive) call."

I get the "horse----" part, don't know the "expletive" Walker used, but it really doesn't matter. The moment you use the word "betting" in reference to an umpire, you're in trouble. As you should be.

Not enough trouble, though. I don't know how much he's been fined, but I suspect that he could cover it with whatever's in his wallet and have plenty to spare. The system governing fines is a relic of the era in which many baseball players were essentially members of the middle class. Today, you can't fine a player enough to hurt him, and when they appeal it's due purely to principle (or stubbornness or a misplaced sense of entitlement, however you choose to look at it).

If I were commissioner and could do whatever I liked, I would throw the book at Jamie Walker -- fine, suspension, ripping off the epaulettes -- or anyone else who publicly questioned the integrity of an umpire. There simply is no place for that in the sport. Oh, and good luck to Walker getting the close calls in his next outing.