Commentary

Umpires get it right -- without replay

Originally Published: March 28, 2014
By Doug Glanville | ESPN.com

It's official. Umpires are right, and they have always been right.

Major League Baseball evaluated expanded replay's potential by looking back at 2013, using the same standard that is behind this season's expansion. To reverse a decision on the field, the evidence must be "clear and convincing." In other words, the call has to be wrong. Clearly wrong.

Last season there was only one reversible call every 6.5 games. So if you are playing for any team, once a week you would see a call that was blatantly incorrect. Could it have been a game-changing call? Sure. Could it have cost you a hit? Sure. But make no mistake about it, umpires get it right -- and they get it right a lot. And that was before expanded replay.

Funny enough, everyone else gets it wrong more than umpires. The players, the fans, the coaches, the managers, the mascots. In fact, sometimes everyone else gets it intentionally wrong -- a manager stalls for time for the pitcher in the bullpen, an outfielder acts as if he caught a ball that he knows he trapped, a coach argues just to set up the advantage for the next call. And funny enough, everyone else is biased, much more so than the umpires, yet they call the umpires out for giving an advantage or making up for another call.

[+] EnlargeRon Roenicke, Tim Welke, Dan Bellino
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenGo ahead, argue if you must, Ron Roenicke, but the umpires are usually right.

Umpires have to work hard to stay neutral, not to let emotion guide their decisions, but that's exactly contrary to how fans and teams act. Players and coaches and fans are unapologetically emotional and biased. That is what it means to be a fan or to play for the honor of your team. Neutrality doesn't exist in the locker room or in the stands.

So it makes for a curious dynamic when a clearly biased group is evaluating the neutrality of another. It is an inherent conflict of interest. We are much more likely to see what we want to see, believe what we want to believe so we can fight the power and overcome the forces against us. An unbiased judge is inherently against the winds of a passion or desire to find an edge, to dig deep down and play a game where you are supposed to beat your opponent using any advantage at your disposal.

Umpires don't have to beat anyone or anything other than their own excellence. Sure, they are human. Sure, they may have inherent biases, but not to the same degree as players, coaches and fans. Maybe our impartiality should be questioned.

It is not as if a pitcher would say, "Oh, sorry, don't call that a strike; that was actually a ball." A baserunner who was out by 10 feet and called safe would never say, "Actually, he tagged me on my shoulder before I got to the base." A team will exploit every favorable call and frame it as destiny or happenstance, with no moral requirement to fix it, even if in the moment it can objectively be noted that the call was wrong.

Umpires have only a moment to decide, a moment to issue an answer in real time. When you look at their track record, you'll realize how amazingly well they have performed under that stress.

There is no conspiracy. Fact: Of 2,431 games last season, umpires never made more than three "clear and convincing" bad calls in any given contest. Didn't happen. Not even once.

In fact, in only three games did they make three "clear and convincing" bad calls at all. And the three calls didn't go against the same team.

Umpires uphold the rules; they issue decisions in the blink of an eye, and whatever decision they make in a tight game will upset one side or the other. It is a given.

Yet under that kind of pressure, they continue to make the right calls. The stats unequivocally show they are making calls at an A-plus rate, better than any pitcher's accuracy rate, better than any hitter's ability to make hard contact, better than the best shortstop's fielding percentage. Their consistency is indisputably world class. Period.

I am a baseball analyst, so I strive to be even-handed and neutral about how I evaluate, but I was also a player and a fan, and I now realize how twisted it is that we hold a standard for our umpires that we could never live up to ourselves.

Take pause and understand how well umpires have done their job to date. Expanded replay is a supplement, not a replacement. It provides support for people who are already doing a bang-up job.

Umpires deserve a little latitude because they've proved that when it comes to accuracy, they have the highest level of consistent excellence of anyone on the field or in the stands. They represent the game well.

It only took expanded replay and technology to measure the precision of their instincts.

• MLB analyst for ESPN and ESPN.com
• Played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers
• Email: mail@dougglanville.com
• Website: http://www.dougglanville.com/

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