Baseball had a problem a few days before the playoffs began: The umpires were threatening to strike. Baseball had another problem a few days after the playoffs began: The umpires were working. A walkout was averted when the umpires and league presidents reached a decision to arbitrate a dispute over playoff money—the umps wanted more for the new best-of-seven format—but on-field decisions were more controversial than ever. While the National League playoffs were conducted without major incident, American League umpires were under fire for at least six different calls on the bases and one in the outfield.
The problem wasn't so much the decisions as the deciders. From the late '60s until 1982, playoff umpires were chosen on a rotating basis that equally rewarded the mediocre and meritorious. In 1982 that system was replaced by one based solely on quality. Alas, the clock has been turned back. Now, all umpires with six years of service are eligible for the playoffs, and the leagues are required to use all of them, if possible, at least once every four years. Furthermore, umpires can't work playoffs in successive years or work more than one special event (All-Star games, league championship series, World Series) a year or work any special event more than three successive years. The last reason is why some of the best AL umps—Steve Palermo, Rich Garcia and Marty Springstead, for example—were missing from the 1985 playoffs.
Why not use the best all the time? "I can understand that argument," says AL arbiter Dave Phillips. "But the umpires feel that if they can work 162 games over six seasons, they can certainly work the playoffs. It's good for morale and pride when you can look forward to the postseason."
But, as K.C. general manager John Schuerholz counters, "If you don't have the best umpires, you won't have the best umpiring."
Last week's work barely qualified as competent. Television replays appeared to show that Vic Voltaggio blew three different calls and Ted Hendry another three. The biggest gaffe of all, though, was a call that Hendry didn't make. In the 10th inning of the second game, Hendry, working at second base, failed to make a tough judgment call on a sinking line drive caught/trapped by Lloyd Moseby, even though he was closest to the play.
Referring to his flub, Hendry conceded, "I should have had a better angle."
And baseball should have only its best umpires working in the playoffs and the World Series.