Today, blogger Murray Chass's blog was hijacked by guest-blogger Fay Vincent, who offers a few suggestions to his old pal Bud Selig about the umpiring situation:
Major League Baseball should immediately adopt reforms to the umpiring system. MLB is now a $7 billion dollar industry awash in cash so the costs of these changes can hardly be the reason to defer making them.
1. MLB should buy the umpire schools and take over the training and development of all umpires in professional baseball. The recruitment, training and compensation of minor league and major league umpires should be controlled by the commissioner and modern personnel programs instituted to insure proper professional development.
2. Minor league umpires as employees of MLB should be offered the opportunity to become members of the same union as major league umpires to insure all of them are properly represented and protected by Federal law.
3. The use of technology to improve the accuracy of on field decisions should continue to be explored with the full involvement of the umpires. Additional use of replays should be carefully adopted with careful attention to the risks of further delays in the games.
Taking those in reverse order:
3. Yes, of course. Aside from a few stray dead-enders, there's almost nobody who doesn't support the expanded use of technology if the result isn't significant delays. Everybody wants to see the players, rather than the umpires, deciding who wins the games (well, except for those dead-enders who think blown calls are just good clean fun).
2. Yes, of course. But we might say exactly the same thing about minor-league players, who are underpaid, underfed, and not unionized at all. I'm not saying that unionizing minor leaguers wouldn't be trouble-free, but there's really no good excuse for paying professional baseball players so little money. Especially when it just seems like bad business.
1. Yes, of course ... but for someone who spent three years as Commissioner, Fay Vincent seems overly casual about Commissioner's limitations when it comes to the major-league umpires. They've got that union, and instituting "modern personnel programs" would involve a major fight.
See, the umpires in the union have a pretty good thing going. They make real good money and -- here's the key part -- once they've got a bit of tenure, they're like Supreme Court Justices: no matter how poorly they perform, there's just no getting rid of them. Or even, one suspects, talking to them.
Yes, Major League Baseball should do the easy things, which would certainly help. But the skills of the umpires won't be optimized until their skills are both measured (they are) and materially affect job security (they don't).
That's a problem worth addressing, but it would mean one hell of a fight.