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No safe place for MLB umps

8/25/2014
MLB umpires are under scrutiny this summer Daniel Nyari for ESPN

EVERY MONDAY, MLB makes umpires squirm. On that day, the league releases a report detailing the latest results of the game's expanded replay system. To review: For the first time, managers can challenge a host of calls, including fair/foul balls, force/tag plays and catch/trap plays. And challenge they have: Through Aug. 10, the ledger showed 924 replay reviews this year, most of them requested by skippers. Of those 924 calls, 47.3 percent had been overturned. That's a blush-inducing pace of more than 600 reversals in the first season of challenges.

But what really makes the men in blue uneasy is that the league's weekly report breaks down the reversal rate of each umpire. That's not a problem for umps like Scott Barry and Mike Estabrook, who rarely get overturned. But relatively inexperienced umps like Toby Basner and John Tumpane, who lead the pack in the rate of overturned calls, probably dislike Mondays more than the rest of us.

Despite the overturn rate, umpires remain in favor of replay. Says ESPN consultant Jim McKean, who spent 30 years as an ump and another eight as a supervisor, "You can go home at night and know that you're not responsible for a team losing."

That will be even more important come October. MLB plans to use replay data to help determine coveted postseason assignments. "Everything that transpires on the field gets evaluated," says league spokesman Mike Teevan.

According to the Umpire Media Guide, the commissioner's office has "absolute and exclusive discretion in the assignment of umpires to work special events." In a sign that the review stats are meaningful, Vic Carapazza, a 35-year-old ump in just his second full season, was assigned to his first All-Star Game this season. Through Aug. 17, Carapazza had just 18.8 percent of his reviews overturned.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the players association applauds the idea of umpire metrics. "Players are constantly held accountable for their results," says MLBPA chief and former player Tony Clark. "So it's only natural they'd want everyone else held accountable too."

Now if they can just find a way to speed up the review process.