Umpire's inappropriate rant sheds light on a growing problem
After the required-to-be-impartial umpire called the Yankees and Red Sox "pathetic and embarrassing'' in an unprofessional
West also called two of baseball's flagship franchises, rather colorfully, "a disgrace to baseball.'' He said, "They're the two clubs that don't try to pick up the pace. They're two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest?"
West's criticisms regarding the Yankees' and Red Sox's maddeningly slow play were inappropriate and over-the-top, and they have earned West scorn in baseball circles, a well-deserved admonishment from his bosses and possibly even discipline from baseball's powers.
While I doubt West would actually treat these teams unfairly based on his over-the-top public comments, the appearance of a bias was certainly present in his pointed criticisms. Yankees GM
Not everyone declined to respond, though. "It's incredible," Yankees closer
Umpires have to present an image of impartiality. They can't engage in name calling, which is what West did, and which should have been obvious to someone who's been a major league umpire since 1976.
But that doesn't mean West was entirely wrong. In fact, based on the numbers baseball keeps, he appears to have been dead on. Whether his intention or not, he also called attention to a problem that's been getting worse over the past six years, even though major league baseball says it's trying to address the issue.
As time-of-game stats acquired by SI show, the Red Sox, and especially the Yankees, do need to pick up the pace. In 10 of the last 11 years, the Yankees played the longest games in baseball, the lone exception being 2000, when they were one minute quicker than the Indians. (The quickest games last year were played by the White Sox and Mariners at 2:42 per.)
The Red Sox aren't too far behind the Yankees, either. The last four years running, in fact, the Red Sox have been second slowest to the Yankees, with the lone exception being 2008, when the two rivals tied for slowest with an average game time of 3:02.
Baseball isn't messing around about this issue. In 2009, dozens of players were warned for pace-of-game violations, and many of them received second warnings. Several managers also were warned, and a few of them were fined.
But since West's comments came out, it was also learned that one player in particular has earned his way onto the commissioner's office hit list as a serial time-waster for his repeated pace-of-game violations. He has been warned and fined multiple times for obvious offenses, and that player is believed to be star Red Sox closer
At least Papelbon is supposed to be part of the show, though. Those who have followed West's career aren't necessarily surprised he called attention to himself with his rant. He's among a group of umpires that seems to think they are part of the action.
West made clear he believes the Yankees aren't doing their part to adhere to Selig's wishes to speed up play, and his frustration is clear. It's hard to believe the Yankees are so consistently slower than everyone else, but several theories have emerged, ranging from their usually excellent offense to their pitch-taking philosophy to the added pressure of playing in New York, competing in baseball's fiercest rivalry and staying on top. They also probably lead the league in deep breaths.
The Yankees' slow-as-molasses reputation started in the
Nobody seems to have a good theory why Torre's games have taken longer, although it's interesting to note that he's a member of baseball's newly-formed blue ribbon committee that's raising time of game as a prime issue again
MLB has made the pace of games an issue for a decade now, and after some very quick progress under
Baseball's powers are obviously going to the umpires to try to rectify what's seen as a problem, and West's crew saw the first two Yankees-Red Sox games played in 3:46 and 3:48, respectively. The third game, a 10-inning affair, was a more reasonable 3:21. West obviously became frustrated his crew couldn't control the game times (
Unless umpires are asked to explain a rules situation or one of their screwups, they are generally best seen and not heard. Baseball's umpires are the best in the world, notwithstanding the first two rounds of the 2009 postseason, and they certainly are within their rights to make constructive criticisms to the league office as they see fit, as no one understands the game or the problem more than them.
But this criticism wasn't intended to be constructive but rather punitive. And it wasn't made in private. West's comments were over-the-top in light of the fact that he's supposed to be an unbiased judge. Hard as it is to believe, he didn't understand the importance of conveying impartiality, and for that he deserved to be called out for his tirade.
Umpires are supposed to recede into the background, something West sometimes seems incapable of doing. They sometimes don't seem to get the idea that fans aren't there to see them but to see the players. Veteran major league umpires make big wages for making correct calls, not because they are entertainers, and a select few of them appear to overestimate their importance.
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