GORDON WHITE: 'Three Blind Mice' Botch Another One
Starting 70 years ago at Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn Sym-Phony sextet would serenade Dodger players and fans with discordant, musical renditions of various tunes such as "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
One of the most popular routines came when an umpire would make a very dubious call, particularly one that went against their beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.
While the crowd loudly booed the umpire, the Brooklyn Sym-Phony would strike up "Three Blind Mice", which, like the umpire's call, would be way off key. But it made the point strongly and clearly for 19 years until the Dodgers skipped town for Los Angeles in 1958.
What is needed now is for the entire Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York Symphony Orchestras to go out to this year's remaining Major League Baseball playoff games and loudly perform "Three Blind Mice" so these dense and bungling umpires of 2009 finally get the message. Never before have there been so many examples of incompetence by MLB umpires as have been shown time and time again on TV replay for the entire world to see during these playoffs. I can't remember ever seeing three such horrible calls during so short a span of time as took place at second and third base in the fourth and fifth innings of the fourth game of the American League Championship Series last Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Although I rarely revisit a subject I covered in a column the previous week, I am making an exception today because MLB umpires continue their shoddy work during the playoffs while a former commissioner of MLB is calling for changes in umpire schooling and performance.
Fay Vincent, who served as MLB Commissioner from September, 1989, to September, 1992, was prompted to write an op-ed piece in last Sunday's New York Times following numerous poor umpire calls in the early MLB playoff games.
Vincent wrote, "Major League Baseball does not train its own umpires, and therefore it has not established practices that would attract the best people. Those who wish to enter the profession attend schools run by former umpires. But these are entirely private businesses; the commissioner of baseball doesn't control the curriculum, manage the training or do anything to lure people of all races and ethnic groups to become umpires.
"To attract the kind of young people any business would want, Major League Baseball should establish a thoroughly professional training system for umpires -- and ensure that every official it hires is up to the job."
Pointing to the poor calls in the American and National League Division Series of two weeks ago, Vincent wrote, "In the National Football League, only those officials with the highest performance scores during the regular season are chosen for the postseason..Baseball, sadly, has no such system".
The former commissioner said MLB should improve its umpiring before resorting to more instant replay to correct questionable calls.
But David Wells, a former major league pitcher who is one of the TBS commentators for this year's playoff games, said MLB needs more replay to correct such umpiring gaffes as took place last Tuesday night. Wells is not alone in calling for use of more TV replay in baseball although Bud Selig, the current MLB commissioner, is strongly opposed to such a move.
At present, replay is only used on questionable home run calls -- fair or foul, over the wall or not over the wall.
The three horrible calls Tuesday night amounted to two that helped the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Angels in the fourth game of the ALCS and one that cost the Yanks a run even though they went on to route the Angels, 10-1, and take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Tim McClelland, the third base umpire made two of those bad calls. And he was the crew chief for the six umpires working that game.
With one out in the fourth inning and Nick Swisher on third, McClelland called Swisher out for leaving the base before the Angels' center fielder, Torii Hunter, caught a fly ball for the second out. Replays clearly showed that Swisher left third base after Hunter's catch and that McClelland never looked at Swisher's foot on third base or saw when it was lifted off the bag.
A few minutes prior to that bad call, Umpire Dale Scott called Swisher safe diving back to second base when Scott Kazmir, the Angels' pitcher, tried a pickoff by throwing to his shortstop, Erick Aybar. Replay showed that Aybar tagged out Swisher before he touched second base and that Scott was just another of the long list of umpires doing a poor job in this year's playoffs.
But the worst call of the game came on a rundown play when the Angels caught Jorge Posada between home and third while the Yanks' Robinson Cano ran from second to third. When the Angels' catcher, Mike Napoli, chased Posada all the way back to third they arrived there at the same time as Cano.
Strangely, Posada overstepped the bag and stood three feet beyond third while Cano, apparently doubtful about just what to do, hesitated stepping on third base and remained a foot off the bag. Napoli wisely tagged both Cano and Posada for two outs to end the inning. But McClelland unwisely called only Posada out and later claimed, "I thought Cano was on the base."
Our hope is that the World Series umpiring will improve. If it does not, MLB may prove once again it is in need of improved leadership and numerous other corrective measures. MLB could start by running its own umpiring schools and by retesting umpires on a regular basis.
When a chief umpire "thinks" runners are on or off third base, MLB should remind its umpires that they are not paid to think a man is on the base. They are paid to know if a runner is on the base by seeing if his foot is on or off the bag. That is just why the old Brooklyn Sym-Phony used to play "Three Blind Mice".
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
More like this story