Topic: Sports & Entertainment

The Umpire Strikes Out

This would have been an Easy Call, except that designating the controversy over home plate umpire Doug Eddings blunder in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series as such would break the Irony Meter.

Essentially, Eddings greatly helped the Chicago White Sox score the winning run in that game by 1) signaling that Chisox batter A. J. Pierzynski had swung, missed, and was out, thus inducing the Angels to leave the field thinking it was the end of the 9th inning of their tied game 2) not saying out loud either that the final out had been made or that the third strike had not been caught cleanly (which would require that either the batter be tagged or thrown out) 3) inspiring the clever batter, Pierzynski, to dash for first after the catcher had departed, sans ball, for the Angels dugout with the rest of his team, and 4) insisting that Pierzynski had never been called out, allowing him to reach base safely.

The White Sox scored the winning run shortly thereafter.

Videotapes of the play showed that with the benefit of super-slow motion and close-up photography, one could reasonably conclude that Eddings may have been correct that the ball hadn’t been caught. If so, it was the only thing connected with the play that Eddings got right. Replays also proved that Eddings’ gestures behind the plate on the play were exactly the same as his gestures earlier in the game signaling ordinary strikeouts. What should have happened was for one of the other umpires who witnessed this fiasco to over-rule Eddings and declare Pierzynski out because the initial call had signaled that he was out, ending the inning. Instead, the umpires insisted along with Eddings that “it was inconclusive” whether the strikeout pitch had been caught, that his misleading call was just hunky-dory and that he “had done nothing wrong,” a mantra taken up by Mike Port, Major League Baseball’s umpiring supervisor.

Disgraceful. Eddings, instead of having the courage to fix on the spot the mess he precipitated by a sloppy call, should have declared Pierzynski out but wouldn’t admit his mistake. The other umpires, deciding that their primary duty was to avoid embarrassing a young colleague rather than to resolve a crucial play in an important game watched by millions of fans, closed ranks and did nothing. Port, mindful of angering the umpire’s union and admitting that his employer’s officiating had been revealed as badly flawed, fell into step. Now that the White Sox have won the series by a convincing 4-1 margin, all involved in this debacle are hoping that it is quickly forgotten and their evasive dissembling worked. Maybe it will be forgotten. But their evasion didn’t work at all, because it exposed a serious integrity problem in baseball officiating.

It is admittedly difficult to step up and admit that you blew, especially it on national TV. But this crew failed the ethical standards of honesty, responsibility and accountability not once but three times:

ONE: Eddings should have taken responsibility for his poor execution and called the runner out.

TWO: When he didn’t, the other umpires should have corrected his error.

THREE: Failing that, after viewing the videotape that showed that Eddings’ signal was misleading, Eddings and the other umpires should have admitted that they botched the play at the press conference immediately after the game.

Yes, Mother, I know it’s just a game. But the ethical principles are still important. When you make a mistake, fix it, don’t hide it. Don’t protect your colleagues when your primary duty is to others. Part of everyone’s job is to admit when you didn’t do it right. The umpires in this baseball game showed what a lack of integrity and courage looks like. And that is an easy call.

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