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Umpires and accountability … Should we have a playoff? … And Pedro Alvarez is not progressing to the mean


SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – On Sunday at PNC Park we saw Bryce Harper ejected from the game by John Hirschbeck after the 20-year-old phenom disagreed with a check-swing third strike call.


Harper raised his arms in disbelief and tossed his batting helmet, but he didn’t demonstratively slam the helmet against the ground.


To many  observers it seemed Hirschbeck did not show enough discretion. In fact, it appeared, if anything, Hirschbeck was the aggressor, walking toward Harper, and throwing him out from 120 feet way. Hirschbeck needs to consider this: the 26,000 on hand  paid in part to see the 20-year-old Harper play, not to see Hirschbeck umpire from third base. You be the judge.



(I’m guessing you didn’t show up Sunday for John Hirschbeck’s autograph)


Hirschbeck told the Washington Post that he didn’t like that Harper  “put his hands up with the bat.”  Again, Harper was 120 feet away from Hirschbeck.


“That’s kind of what I yelled at him. He continued and threw his bat. I kind of pointed like, ‘That’s equipment.’ And then, he still continued and slammed his helmet down. That’s when I ejected him.”




“I was actually just being nice. Even the hands up in the air is showing me up, to me,” Hirschbeck said. “I could have ejected him right then. I was nice enough to leave him in the game. And then he slammed his bat down. And then on top of that, he slammed his helmet. I had no other recourse, really.”


The other recourse was to not escalate the affair.


Last night, a crew led by Angel Hernandez, blatantly blew a home run call twice. Once in real-time, and then somehow with the modern benefits of being able to replay and pause the moment over and over using video. Somehow instant replay failed last night in Cleveland. Moreover, Hernandez’s strike zone was all over the place according to PitchFx.


A week earlier we saw the shouting match between Tom Haillon and David Price that resulted in Price’s ejection (both parties were fined in this case.)


Still, to me, these were blatant errors that  should result in some sort of punishment for umpires. But it seem umpires often have immunity, it seems there is little accountability, it seems there is not enough oversight by MLB.


Moreover, umpires are probably staying in their positions too long. Hirschbeck has been a Major League umpire since 1984 – for nearly 30 years. Hernandez has been in his position since 1991. Are there not more fit, more able,umpiring prospects perhaps with better eyesight and more even-keel temperaments lurking in the minor leagues?


I know there are already officials better equipped to handle ball-strike calls behind homeplate: they’re defined as robots (PitchFx).



(Your future homeplate umpire. You OK with that?)


Umpires are protected by their union but the commissioner’s office still has the authority to provide more oversight and accountability over the game’s officials. Perhaps that’s what the game requires.




Yes, it’s early but the Pirates are only a game out of the final wild card position. All things considered to date, the difficulty of the schedule, the recent 10-game road trip, that’s not bad. The second wild card should help small-market clubs like the Pirates more often than not in gaining access to the playoffs.


But one of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, and one of my favorite GMs, Billy Beane, think baseball would be better without playoffs


Logically, baseball shouldn’t have a playoff. Teams play 162 games, it’s a marathon, and to have its championships decided by a series of small-sample-size series defies logic. But in America we like to be entertained, we like playoffs, we like TV, so that’s the world we live in.


I’d be on board with just a World Series serving as the postseason if we had a salary cap, evening the playing field. Until then, they only way to keep a broadbase of the country interested in playoff races is to create more of them.




I thought Alvarez showed signs of coming out of his early-season slump in mid April when he started to drive some balls to the opposite field with authority. But Alvarez has never pulled from his tailspin.


Over his last 10 games: five hits, one walks, 13 strikeouts.


It’s now May 9 and the Pirates desperately need to get his bat going  on occasions like yesterday when AJ Burnett offered a gem but the Pirates could simply not generate any offense against a tough right-handed pitcher.


Alvarez apparently does not want to change his pull-heavy approach, but he’s at his best when he’s staying on the ball, letting it travel and going to center and left-field. But over his career he’s twice as likely to pull the ball.


I don’t think he’s going to hit .168 for an entire season, but the Pirates need much more.



  1. Nate83 says:

    Not to be critical but I think the 38 strikeout may be a typo for only 10 games. He may not even have 38 at-bats in 10 games.

  2. 21sthebest says:

    I share a lot of folks frustrations with the umpires and I think they should be less visible. However, when you buy a ticket you also assume the risk that something like this is going to happen. I don’t think it’s any umpires job at all to consider who the ticket buying customer came to see play.

    Umpires are held accountable in the wallet through fines, but they’re not publicized.

    As far as replay goes, I never liked it in the NFL and I don’t like it in baseball. With respect to the NFL, I think the on field referees have gotten worse as they now rely on replay. I could see that happening in baseball too. I say keep replay out of the game until you’ve perfected the technology to eliminate umpires altogeher. It’s inevitable anyways, IMO, that umpires will be replaced. Maybe not in our lifetimes but I think it will happen.

  3. JohninOshkosh says:

    When umpires become part of the story for things other than their calls for on the field plays, then they cease to become neutral arbitrators and become personalities. That is neither good or appropriate.

    I say this with all sincerity: I honestly would not care at all if MLB went to PitchFx making the official ball and strike calls in a game. I get tired of “pitchers or hitters umpire” talk. The strike zone is defined in the rules book. And it’s not a subjective rule. And machines don’t get upset if a player raises his hands 120 feet away.

  4. Jason says:

    It should be 13 strikeouts & 1 walk over his last 10 games. 38 strikeouts & 8 walks are his season totals.

    The 5 hits are correct, and they came in only 3 of the 10 games (along with the walk). So in 7 of the last 10 games, he failed to reach base at all.

    But he did have 5 RBI, so there’s that.

  5. Travis Sawchik says:

    Yep. Fixed. I accidentally wrote down season totals. Thanks for catching that.

  6. Travis Sawchik says:


  7. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think it’s an interesting to wonder of replay makes in-game officiating/umpiring worse … I’d love to see a study

  8. 21sthebest says:

    I’ve thought the same Travis. Not sure what kind of study you can do or how conclusive it would be. All I can say is that it seems to me that in the NFL, the refs often make no call at all and/or will just look at each other. I don’t remember that occurring before replay.

  9. NMR says:

    ” I don’t think it’s any umpires job at all to consider who the ticket buying customer came to see play.”

    I have a feeling their bosses would beg to differ.

  10. John says:

    Yes. He will not over 200 for the entire season. Hes just not good.

  11. If Harper threw his bat (and was not ejected immediately), then proceeded to throw his helmet (a 2nd piece of equipment), he should be ejected immediately! Sounds like discretion to me!
    I turned on the game to watch in the 3rd inning and was disappointed not to see Harper on the field, but I did not turn on the game to watch temper tantrums either. Hirshbeck was perfectly right to toss Harper. Harper won’t do it again!
    By the way, nice “Ageism” prejudice!! Younger guys with better eyesight!? Baseball got rid of Eric Gregg when he couldn’t cut it. They have culled out others for incompetence. Now you want to get rid of every umpire over 55? 50? 45?
    By the way, is your Editor over 50? I’ll bet his fingers on the keyboard are not as quick as yours . . . . get rid of him too!!!!

  12. Skip says:

    Travis – I agree: I don’t think Pedro Alvarez will hit .168 for an entire season…it will probably be much lower than that.

    Seriously though, that guy frustrates me so much I can barely stand it. Pitchers are getting him out (or I should say, he’s getting himself out) exactly the same way since he was a rookie. No adjustment at all – just PULL, PULL, PULL. It’s maddening!

    I mean, the guy went to Vanderbilt. He’s gotta be smarter than this!

  13. NMR says:

    Just asking, did you watch the video?

    I have no idea how anyone can justify the umpires behavior, egging Harper on.

    Can you imagine if an NFL referee got in Ben Roethlebergers face and then threw him out of the game?


  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    Pedro has told me he’s not going to allow defensive shifts to alter his strategy … but I think he should become a more all-fields hitter. He’s too talented to be hitting .186 in May.

    (I wonder if PNC Park’s LF dimensions make him less apt to go the other way?)

  15. Travis Sawchik says:

    Yep. +1

  16. Travis Sawchik says:


    Umpires do not have normal office jobs. They have to move around a field and get in proper position, which requires some athleticism. Also, players skills decline with age, why wouldn’t an umpires (to a lesser degree)?

    But more important is that the system – the umpires’ union – blocks promising young talent from advancing to the MLB umpire ranks.

  17. cmat0829 says:

    I am not an expert but what is most frustrating about Pedro when he is cold is that he is swinging and missing not just at tough off-speed pitches just off the plate but swinging through fastballs middle in and a little up….

    He also seems a bit slow to recognize how pitchers are going to pitch him… I can almost call out the pitch sequence myself and he doesn’t seem to adjust.

    Not sure it can be that simple because I know he works at it and Bell/Hurdle obviously work on it too….. I think he will have season totals very similar to last year but we were all hoping he’d cut down on the Ks and raise the average and become the dangerous hitter every at bat that he needs to be for this club.

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