Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Thursday, October 7, 2010
Updated: October 8, 12:34 PM ET
MLB players want offseason meeting

By Amy K. Nelson
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Representatives from the Major League Baseball Players' Association are trying to organize what would be a rare meeting between umpires, players and the commissioner's office to discuss growing concerns about the state of umpiring in Major League Baseball.

The meeting, which would occur after the World Series, would likely include a panel of players, representatives from the World Umpires Association -- the union for MLB umpires -- and league officials.

"It's just a suggestion; nobody is required to do it," MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner said. "I hope it will take place, but if it doesn't take place we'll figure out another way to try and address it."

Harang We're not trying to go out and show the umpires up and tell them how to do their job. There's definitely a middle ground we need to find where we can all kind of go in there with an opinion and not have any grudges held upon us.

-- Reds pitcher Aaron Harang

Umpires' profiles have increased in the past year, largely due to a series of missed calls in last year's playoff games. This season, umpire Jim Joyce's call denied Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game only added to the focus and reignited a debate about expanding instant replay. Nearly a dozen players interviewed for this story told ESPN.com that relations between the two parties are deteriorating.

"We're not trying to go out and show the umpires up and tell them how to do their job," said Reds pitcher Aaron Harang, the team's former player representative. "There's definitely a middle ground we need to find where we can all kind of go in there with an opinion and not have any grudges held upon us."

There were a pair of questionable calls on the opening day of the playoffs, one in the first inning of the first game and another on what should've been a catch for the final out of the evening.

Another disputed decision Thursday led to the ejection of Rays manager Joe Maddon and chants of "Replay! Replay!" from the Tropicana Field crowd. A few hours later, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire got tossed from the Yankees-Twins game for arguing a ball-strike call.

Even later, a questionable call on a steal attempt led to the only run in San Francisco's 1-0 win over Atlanta in their NL playoff opener. Rookie Buster Posey was called safe for his first career stolen base, even though it appeared Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad tagged him out, and later scored.

"I guess it's a good thing we don't have instant replay right now," Posey said.

A few minutes after the game, Emmel said he had not watched a replay of the steal and said no one disputed it on the field.

"I saw him safe. That's what I called," Emmel said.

Weiner said a face-to-face meeting between all three parties could improve the game.

"There is no question that over the course of this year that I and other people on staff heard a lot from players about umpires," Weiner said.

What the players would like to address, two player representatives said, is the growing concern among players about poor communication with umpires and what players see as a failure of accountability and transparency in the grading and evaluation of umpires. Oakland Athletics reliever Brad Ziegler, the team's player rep, said that because disciplinary action of umps isn't made public, a distrust often exists among some players.

"We never know why or when they are fined, or reprimanded or held accountable," Ziegler said. "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'."

"It'd be nice if they were rated and those who didn't pass, they get a week vacation, they get sent down," said Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies' player rep. "It's not that they're trying to be bad. Some players just can't make it; some umpires just can't make it. That's just the way it is. As long as they don't have to answer to anybody and they have that job security, that pressure of having to be good to stay here -- they don't have to worry about that."

Weiner would not comment specifically on what issues the union would address, and could not confirm what issues would be on the agenda. But it's safe to say instant replay likely would be one of them. Weiner added that there has been no formal decision of the union's position on whether instant replay should be expanded past home run calls, which was instituted in 2008.

"Informally, there are some players [with whom] I've discussed that are in favor of extending replay, there are others who are against it," Weiner said. "In order to get what the consensus position of the players will be, we have to get all the player reps together to hash that out."

Multiple players told ESPN.com that the majority of players do not want to expand instant replay. They meet in early December for their annual board meeting.

It is unknown if the umpires are open to engaging with the players in person. Multiple attempts to reach Lamel McMorris, the World Umpires Association spokesman and Brian Lam, one of its lawyers, were unsuccessful.

Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, would not comment on any details of the proposed meeting, but did confirm he has been in touch with the MLBPA about "their concerns with respect to umpiring." He also added that a meeting of this nature would not be so unusual.

"When you have groups of people that work together in the same environment from time to time, it is a healthy thing from a labor relations perspective to have an exchange to discuss those issues that probably concern them both," Manfred told ESPN.com. "Usually if those types of meetings are conducted correctly, it allows the groups to move forward in a more harmonious manner. I don't see this as an unusual or sort of out-of-the-ordinary thing. More importantly, it is a common workplace issue."

Players interviewed for this story said it would be a rare occurrence to get both parties at the same table, and in person. And Weiner said he recalled a meeting at some point in the 1990s, but it is unknown if any active players were part of it.

Manfred declined to comment on the issue of instant replay and whether it would be a topic in the proposed meeting. But last year, McMorris told Bloomberg News that his union is opposed to any expansion of instant replay. Commissioner Bud Selig recently told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that he hasn't found much enthusiasm for it around the game.

"Right now," Selig told Stark, "there's really no big push for it. The guy who keeps bringing it up is me."

More pressing to the players is better dialogue with the umpires. A sitdown meeting is welcomed by most players polled by ESPN.com.

"I think it would be good for the guys in between the lines to be on the same page," Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "That's who it is; it's the players and the umpires, that's who's going to win and lose ballgames."

Rollins said he's noticed a change in the umpires' patience this year. Often, he said, players aren't allowed to question a call or get clarification about a rule because the umpire refuses to engage in conversation. Rollins also said that if players show too much emotion, like flipping a bat or shaking their head, they are much more apt to be thrown out of games than in past years. Other players echoed his thoughts.

"We're supposed to yell at you, you know that?" Rollins said of the umps. "We're trying to get every inch we can. You make the call, but you don't have to keep looking back at me or antagonize and throw me out from the field while I'm in the dugout.

"It's like umpires are taking it more personal these days. I don't know what it was like back in the day, but looking at the footage, they'd get in these guys faces and ream them out. And umpires would stand there and when it was over they'd walk away. You'd really have to do something to get thrown out."

Most players are fearful of criticizing the umps because they feel it will be held against them later. During the last week of the season, a few players voiced their frustrations with the umpiring, especially its consistency. On Oct. 2, Toronto Blue Jays closer Kevin Gregg blew a save after giving up two runs in a walkoff loss to the Twins. He was unhappy with plate umpire Kerwin Danley's strike zone.

"All we hope for is consistency in any shape or form," Gregg said, "whether it's consistently small, big, tall, wide, whatever they want to call it. I like the fact that there's human error in the game, but just the consistency of it kind of beat me right there."

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was upset with plate ump Phil Cuzzi after blowing a save against the Yankees the second-to-last weekend of the season.

"Just call the game; there's 27 outs. Call the game," Papelbon told reporters. "Don't let the crowd influence you, don't let the hitter influence you, don't call the pitch where the catcher catches it. Stay focused for 27 outs and call the game."

Even though he was frustrated, Gregg told ESPN.com he opposes the expansion of instant replay.

"I don't mind it for the home runs," he said, "but other than that I don't think it has a place in the game."

Many players said the same thing. Rollins said he'd might be open to allowing one challenge per game on important out/safe calls, but all the players interviewed for this story said they were hesitant to expand the replay -- even knowing that plays like Yankees outfielder Greg Golson's in Game 1 of the ALDS, when replays showed he made a late-game catch that was ruled a trap, will happen.

Weiner said the union's goal is to open lines of communication and have a better understanding of the umpires' collectively bargained five-year contract, which they ratified last January. Weiner would not comment, but the union most likely wants a deeper understanding of how the umpires are rated, reprimanded and/or rewarded. Weiner also said he would expect the umpires would want to raise issues they have with the players.

Rollins and Ziegler both said they'd look forward to it and will happily volunteer to attend the meeting.

"I think we could hear the other side of it because none of us knows what it's like to be an umpire," Rollins said. "We can speculate what we think umpires should be, but we don't know what it's like to be an umpire. They go into a hostile environment right away so they put their guard up. It should open up those lines. What's it like to be an umpire? What are the rules? Or why can't I come out and argue with you if I'm being respectful?"

Added Ziegler: "We understand they are trying their best out there. It's not an easy job, this game isn't easy."

Weiner said he didn't expect any concrete changes after the meeting. That is, if it even occurs.

"I would think a meeting where information is exchanged, we'd have discussions, it gives people an opportunity to think about some things they haven't had to think about," Weiner said, "and then we see if there any other further steps that could be taken."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.