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.