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Exhuming Richie Phillips
2004-12-27 17:42
by Mike Carminati

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that… Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. [Mike: Remember that Dickens's great prose developed in an era in which he was paid by the word. Glory be to such times.]

…There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot -- say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance -- literally to astonish his son's weak mind…. [Another Dickensian aside that I love, though I think the best was at the start of David Copperfield—"I Am Born"—which turns into to the history of his "caul". Ick.]

Scrooge…then made bold to inquire what business brought him [Marley's Ghost] there.

'Your welfare!' said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:

'Your reclamation, then. Take heed!'

—"A Christmas Carol" or "The Easiest Story to Rip-off for Any Christmas Episode for A Sitcom Whose Writers Have Run Out of Ideas" (though I have to admit I liked Murray the Cop as Tiny Tim on "The Odd Couple") by Charles "Don't Call Me Jason" Dickens

It seems that MLB and the umpires finally lay to rest the Richie Phillips affair this weekend by agreeing to a new five-year contract. The umps got to somewhat expunge that ugly splotch from their history, and MLB got a concession when the umps agreed to drop their lawsuit over the controversial use of the QuesTec system to evaluate their rank (and I do mean rank) and file (More on QuesTec here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here—Sheez, I didn't realize there were that many).

If you don't recall it, in 1999 Phillips, the then-umpires union chief, tried to outsmart MLB by having all the umpires tender their resignation at once. Not realizing that he did not have the full union's support, Phillips forged ahead and the resignation of some twenty-two umpires was accepted by the commissioner's office. I had to tip my cap to Bud and the boys and was amazed that the umpires' hubris exceeded that of MLB.

Anyway, a number of those umpires were eventually rehired in drip and drags along the way. Apparently, three of the remaining nine (Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion, and Ed Hickox) will be put at or near the top of the will-call list. Davidson is at the top and is reportedly all but assured a job, while the other two are in the next group of five candidates (the other three surely being the friends, family, or ex-blackmailers of MLB execs, who cannot be entirely bumped—I'm joking of course).

The other six umps will get to divvy up $2.3 M in severance pay, will have their benefits restored, and get a partridge in a pear tree reportedly. One of those six is Eric Gregg, of the extremely wide strike zone (remember Livan Hernandez in the 1997 playoffs?), which is not the only thing wide about Gregg, is a local celebrity of sorts in Philly. I guess clowning with Philly Phanatic does wonders for an ump's career. He now writes a, uh, I guess I'll call it a column for the local commuter rag, The Metro, a.k.a., the dregs of the AP news wire. The column is as close to cheerleading as one can get in print. Maybe the added cash will help him to retire from the newspaper biz.

So that's what the umpires get—as Davidson termed it "a wonderful Christmas gift". MLB gets to push ahead in its QuesTec trek unfettered by the chains they forged in life, specifically, the umpires' lawsuit. They just had to adjust the curve for the low-end umps:

[U]mpires whose ball-and-strike calls are rated below standard by QuesTec will be evaluated by umpire supervisors based on videotape and in-game inspection.

[WUA, i.e., umpires union, lawyer Larry] Gibson said that after the Questec scores were adjusted last season by supervisor Frank Pulli, all umpires met standards.

So that's all it's about. No one should point out who the truly abysmal umps are. MLB will retain its ranking system. It just won't be allowed to fail anyone…yet. Pulli will keep everyone above an F. Evidently, they will instead be given the Tenacious D-inspired F-Plus. But in the long run, baseball keeps the tool and will be able to use it in dealing with individual employees (umps).

I am of two minds re. QuesTec. I was at first highly skeptical (though anything Curt Schilling dislikes, after the last election, can't be all bad). I can't say that umpiring hasn't improved over the last few years though I cannot quantity it nor can say for certain that QuesTec had anything to do with it (Enough positivity through negativity for you?). I would like to keep an open mind on the issue, though I really would like to hear what Richie Phillips thinks of it today.

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