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Lo Dufus and the Fallen Angel (Say Hey!)
2006-05-08 09:41
by Mike Carminati

Or for a more straightforward title, try "Fire Angel Hernandez" on for size.

Angel: Even elephants are afraid of me.
Brad: They're smart animals. [You] are poison.
Angel: But it's a wonderful death.
—From "The Greatest Show on Earth"

Yesterday, in the top of the second with the Braves at bat in a scoreless game against the Mets, home plate ump Angel Hernandez let all heck break loose after he actually had to make a tough call at the plate and thereby lost any concept of equilibrium.

The situation was that Brian McCann was on third and Ryan Langerhans was on first base with one out in a 0-0 tie. The pitcher, John Smoltz, was up, and he tapped a ball in front of the plate.

McCann made what was probably an ill-advised sprint for the plate. The catcher, Paul Lo Duca—who you should keep in mind now has "Team Player" tattooed on his forehead because it's been said of him so often—made a nice barehanded grab and then lunged for the streaking/lumbering McCann about three feet up the third base foul line.

Here came the first controversy: Hernandez called McCann safe, and after watching about four replays of the play, I cannot say that was a bad call. I thought that one replay showed Lo Duca's hand being slightly deflected by McCann's back pants pocket, meaning that the runner was out, but even as an agnostic, I couldn't swear on a short-stack of bibles (or pancakes) that it proved anything. Let me just say before we proceed that even if Hernandez did get the call wrong, which I cannot prove, it was a pretty dang close one.

But here's where pandemonium ensued: "Team Player" Lo Duca exasperated by the call spiked the ball in front of the plate and pursued the ump.

Now, as I said this was not a bang-bang, dead-to-rights out. It was definitely open to interpretation. Even the replays were inconclusive. Lo Duca, again a "Team Player"™, had no justification to react the way he did.

This was Chuck "Blauch Head" Knoblauch to the nth degree.

If you forget the play, on October 7, 1998, the Indians beat the Yankees (4-1) with three runs in the twelfth inning in game two of the ALCS due in large part to a play by Knoblauch. With future Yankee Enrique Wilson on first, Travis Fryman attempted to bunt him to second. The ball was fielded cleanly by first baseman Tino Martinez, but his throw hit Fryman in the back. Knoblauch, who was covering first, argued with the umps while the ball rolled away by. Wilson came around to score before the ball could be retrieved, thereby scoring what would be the winning run.

Knoblauch felt that the batter-runner should have been out for violating the basepaths. It was a valid argument that is often made on such a play, but it almost always happens after the ball has been rustled and the play is dead. There is a time and a place after all.

Whereas Knoblauch's error was one of omission—"Oops, I have to pick up the ball?"—Lo Duca's was an error of commission—"Play be damned, I'm ticked off. Therefore, I don't need to retain control of the ball while arguing."

His real words were even dumber, "I spiked it pretty good, probably better than Ickey Woods, but I didn't do the Ickey Shuffle." Yuck, yuck—Yuck! Paul DePodesta is smiling somewhere.

Hernandez then made his second call, and I can't argue with this one either. He ejected the slightly peeved Lo Duca.

But then a series of calls ensued that I defy anyone to justify without somehow causing an internal embolism and subsequent lobotomy to allow the myriad of (mostly false) interpretations of the rules to make some semblance of sense.

The results of the play were that the batter (Smoltz) had to remain at first, but that the runner from first (Langerhans) was allowed to advance to third. Don't ask me why. It seemed completely arbitrary to me.

Bobby Cox must have had a similar reaction, because he argued himself out of the game and into the locker room. I have no problem being aligned with Cox, the best manager of his era, rather than Hernandez, arguably the worst ump of his era, when it comes to a baseball question (I can't comment on their political views or favorite films).

Apparently, Hernandez claimed that time was called when Smoltz advanced. There are just two fundamental problems with this call: 1) No one on the defense sought to have time called, and there was no indication that it indeed was called in any of the replays I saw. 2) If time were somehow miraculously called without actually being signaled—a sort of immaculate timeout—why allow the leading, and much more important, runner to advance to third and not the trailing runner?

As for issue two, it looked like to me that Lagerhans was crossing the bag at second and Smoltz had yet to touch first when the spike happened. If that was the event that caused time to be called—I'll go into that in a second—could Hernandez have determined that Lagerhans was on his way to third at the time and therefore, should be awarded that base? I would agree with an interference call that went this way, but this was an instance when time was called. Accordingly, the play is dead and the runners cannot advance. If Smoltz had yet to touch first, you let him have the base on continuation but how does third base enter into the argument?

Now, back to time being called. Here is the rule that elucidates "Time" calls. I'll include the rule in its entirety (because I'm verbose), but will break out the individual conditions and codicils to the rule for further investigation:

The ball becomes dead when an umpire calls "Time." The umpire in chief shall call "Time"

(a) When in his judgment weather, darkness or similar conditions make immediate further play impossible;

(b) When light failure makes it difficult or impossible for the umpires to follow the play; NOTE: A league may adopt its own regulations governing games interrupted by light failure.

(c) When an accident incapacitates a player or an umpire; (1) If an accident to a runner is such as to prevent him from proceeding to a base to which he is entitled, as on a home run hit out of the playing field, or an award of one or more bases, a substitute runner shall be permitted to complete the play.

(d) When a manager requests "Time" for a substitution, or for a conference with one of his players.

(e) When the umpire wishes to examine the ball, to consult with either manager, or for any similar cause.

(f) When a fielder, after catching a fly ball, falls into a bench or stand, or falls across ropes into a crowd when spectators are on the field. As pertains to runners, the provisions of 7.04 (c) shall prevail. If a fielder after making a catch steps into a bench, but does not fall, the ball is in play and runners may advance at their own peril.

(g) When an umpire orders a player or any other person removed from the playing field.

(h) Except in the cases stated in paragraphs (b) and (c) (1) of this rule, no umpire shall call "Time" while a play is in progress.

OK, we can dismiss conditions (a), (b), and (c) automatically. No manager was on the field at the time of the play, so (d) can't apply. No fielder left the field—unless you count Lo Duca launch to Mars—so (f) can't apply.

The only ones left are (f) and (g). Perhaps Hernandez was going to get another ump's opinion on the call at home (i.e., (f)), but since he did not do so after the melee, I highly doubt this is why time was called.

That leaves (g): Lo Duca was ejected so Hernandez assumed that "time" was called and the play was dead. But this interpretation is at odds with the overriding condition at the end—and this is why I included the entire rule. Condition (h) states that only (b) and (c)(1) can cause an ump to call time while a play is in progress. We have already determined that those conditions did not apply even remotely.

Therefore, this is what I think happened: Hernandez must have missed ump school the day that 5.10(h) was taught. He assumed the play was dead when he ejected Lo Duca. Then he realized that he made an oopsie. To compensate the Braves on his ludicrous call, he awarded third to the leading runner in some sort of continuation justification. However, he failed to realize that it made no sense to leave the trailing runner at first or could come up with no justification with moving him to second given his loopy interpretation.

Let's consider what Hernandez's interpretation of 5.10(g) means. Let's suppose that there's a sharply hit line drive down the third base line with a runner at first and the score tied late in a game. It's clear that the runner will score the leading run. Let's say the first baseman punches the batter as he crosses the bag. He is instantly ejected, but the runner, who has just passed second, can go no farther than third since the play is dead upon the ejection.

Sounds a bit counter-intuitive, eh?

Now, aside from the horrific series of calls on this play, there was another serious problem with Hernandez's umpiring abilities. This might be sour grapes but both Mets starting pitcher Jose Lima and "Team Player"™ Lo Duca said that "Hernandez told them that he was calling pitches farther off the plate strikes for Smoltz, but not for Lima."

"When the umpire said 'I'm going to give you a couple of inches off the plate, but I'm not going to give you 4-5 inches because you're not John Smoltz,' I'm trying to protect my pitcher," the highly quotable Lo Duca said.

Now, the ramblings of these two highly questionable players may be easily dismissed if it were the first time that this type of allegation had been made.

A few years ago, there were similar allegations against the impish ump:

The Braves were most incensed by Remlinger's pitch to Womack to start the eighth that was called a ball when it looked like strike three...Womack said Hernandez told him "he was calling them up and down, not in and out." Arizona starter Rick Helling said he'd been told the same thing by Hernandez.

Hernandez still thinks it's "his" strike zone to call how he would like depending on the pitcher, team, situation, or his mood on the given day.

Throw in a couple of other highly questionable, memorable calls (see below), and you get a guy who should have been cleaned out along with the Richie Phillips comrades a few years back.

I'll leave you with a series of miscalls that Hernandez has made and that I have documented over the years.

Angel Hernandez caused a small stir in August 2001. He called Cub Ron Coomer, trying to score on a wild pitch, out on a close play at home that would have tied the score in the sixth. Steve McMichael, former football player and pro wrestler, had been enlisted to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch, which he decided to introduce by promising to talk to Hernandez after the game. Hernandez promptly ejected McMichael, perhaps the first time that an individual not involved in the game has been ejected by an ump. He once called Brave Michael Tucker safe at home on a sac fly to win an 11-inning game even though the throw clearly beat Tucker. In 2001 he changed a home run to a long foul fly-ball strike after the batter had rounded the bases and had taken a seat in the dugout. Also, in 1996 Kenny Lofton left his bat at home in a sort of protest of Hernandez calling him out on strikes. Hernandez kicked the bat away in an act called the most unprofessional thing that manager Mike Hargrove ever had seen on a ball field.

In the 2003 ALCS (10-8-2003) Hernandez, the rightfield ump, called a Todd Walker homer a foul ball even though one could see that the ball hit the foul pole (meaning it was a home run) with the naked eye on a replay at normal speed. He was overruled on the call by homeplate ump, Tim McClellan, which led to these immortal words from Steve Palermo, the ump's version of Scott McClelland, "McClellan [Tim, that is] was 150% sure" of call. Good night, Gracie.

2006-05-08 09:57:20
1.   Bob Timmermann
Actually Tim has the D at the end of his name and Scott doesn't.

I know in the minors, umpires throw out off-field personnel from time to time. PA announcers, organists, promotional people. It's all part of self-preservation at that level. And in the case of kicking out McMichael, Hernandez had to do that.

That notwithstanding, does anyone know if Angel Hernandez is good on balls and strikes?

2006-05-08 10:17:20
2.   Mike Carminati
Yes, and I can sum it up in three words, "Eric Gregg, Jr."
2006-05-08 10:50:25
3.   Mike from Hoboken
Thanks for the rundown and the extra info. As you know, I was there and none of us could figure out what Hernandez was thinking. We were also dumbfounded by "Team Player" Lo Duca's Blauch-head move, but I think a team invites (and deserves) this sort of bizarro game if it sends Jose Lima to mound. 13-3 Braves was the final and wasn't nearly that close.
2006-05-08 12:52:10
4.   LatNam
I was watching the game on TV, and when that play happened I knew that I could count on you to do a nice write up about it. Thanks for not disappointing. ;)
2006-05-08 15:19:00
5.   LilLeaguer
I did not see the play, but I have heard about it. Did the Mets manager come out onto the field to protest either the safe call or the ejection of Lo Duca?


2006-05-08 18:36:25
6.   Mike Carminati
Willie Randolph came out to get between Lo Duca and Hernandez. Cox came out next, first for an explanation. Then he argued with 2B ump Tim Holbrook, who unilaterally decided to send Smoltz back. I said that Hernandez sent Smoltz back. The decision wasn't his but he should have overruled Holbrook's silly decision.
2006-05-09 00:05:48
7.   LilLeaguer

The unattributed rumor spread by anonymous internet denizens that I've heard is that:

1. "some coach" came out on the field, and Wendelstedt (U1) called, "Time."
2. Holbrook (U2) noticed the call and had Smolz return to 1B, his last achieved base.

I have no idea if this happened; I didn't see the game. But if we're throwing around rules,

9.04 (b) (2) Field umpires may call time
5.10 (d) A manager coming onto the field is reason to call time
9.04 (b) Field umpires are authorized to make decisions on the bases
9.02 (b) PU should not over rule a decision by a field umpire.

I'm sorry, with the knowledge that Holbrook sent Smolz back, I have no idea how you can complain about any aspect of Hernandez' umpiring in this sitch. Probably got the original call right, ejected Lo Duca appropriately, and had no standing in the decision on Smolz.

9.02 (c)

2006-05-09 06:06:26
8.   Mike Carminati
One problem with your assessment is that it overlooks the most important call in the screwed-up play, the "time" call. I have watched every replay available, and I see no ump calling time. As I said, the only conclusion I can draw is that Hernandez assumed that time was called when his run-in in with Lo Duca, which was a cataclysmically bad call.

Two, while we are quoting rules:

(a) The umpire in chief shall stand behind the catcher. (He usually is called the plate umpire.) His duties shall be to:
(1) Take full charge of, and be responsible for, the proper conduct of the game;
(5) Make all decisions except those commonly reserved for the field umpires;

(b) A field umpire may take any position on the playing field he thinks best suited to make impending decisions on the bases. His duties shall be to:
(1) Make all decisions on the bases except those specifically reserved to the umpire in chief;
(2) Take concurrent jurisdiction with the umpire in chief in calling "Time," balks, illegal pitches, or defacement or discoloration of the ball by any player.

OK, so any field ump would have "concurrent jurisdiction" to call time along with Hernandez, but given 9.04 (a1), Hernandez is the final arbiter.

Then there's Holbrook's call re. Smoltz. First, 5.10(d) does not apply because Randolph was not on the field until Lo Duca retrieved the ball and sauntered back toward Hernandez. Smoltz had plenty of time to get to second before that--he could have scored since Lo Duca paid no attention to the runners whatsoever. It's best to watch the actual play before drawing such conclusions.

Also, you paraphrase incorrectly 9.02 (b). The real rule is:

(b) If there is reasonable doubt that any umpire's decision may be in conflict with the rules, the manager may appeal the decision and ask that a correct ruling be made. Such appeal shall be made only to the umpire who made the protested decision.

(c) If a decision is appealed, the umpire making the decision may ask another umpire for information before making a final decision. No umpire shall criticize, seek to reverse or interfere with another umpire's decision unless asked to do so by the umpire making it.

OK, so the argument comes down to whether Holbrook should have appealed to Hernandez, to which I have to say, come on. By that time Hernandez had lost control of the game and was allowing side conversations crop up. He should have circled the wagons, or at least the umps to discuss the full play. While he was at it he could have kindly suggested that Holbrook appeal the play to the rest of the crew and then a decision that made sense with the rest of the call should have been made.

That Holbrook is allowed to make a decision on one aspect of the play in a vacuum is ludicrous. Say the third base ump sent Langerhans back to second, but Holbrook let Smoltz go to second. That could be a legitimate call but not on this play.

Hernandez, first and foremost, is supposed to "Take full charge of, and be responsible for, the proper conduct of the game". The bottom line is that he didn't. That Holbrook F'ed up too doesn't let him off the hook.

2006-05-09 12:22:51
9.   LilLeaguer
Of course I should see the play before commenting, but I cannot do so.

I respectfully submit that the issue of whether and when time was called (no matter which umpire called it) is central. If there is confusion about when time was called, then a "umpire huddle" might help, but I understand that the two umpires with the responsibility (Wendelstedt and Holbrook) were in communication. It is not the plate umpire's job to retroactively over rule calling time, or to place runners on the bases. To see how umpires actually are instructed in this area, take a look at this excerpt from the Major League Baseball Umpires Manual: ( Note that it does use 9.02 (c) in the way I've described, and that in its list of possible appeals, whether or not time was granted properly is missing. Even in a huddle over a disputed decision, the UiC only has the responsibility to determine which decision will prevail, based on determining which umpire had the best position and was most likely correct (9.04 (c)).

You don't like Hernandez. Fine.

You wish that nobody had called time before Smolz got to 2B. Fine. I have heard that Wendelstedt did, but I'm not sure of that or whether such a call is proper.

You wish that even if time were called before Smolz arrived at 2B, that Hernandez had reversed the call of time and place Smolz at 2B. I can't agree that this would ever be proper behavior for the UiC in a game.


2006-05-09 19:18:29
10.   Izzy
Lodufus? What are you, like 5 or 6? Run along now, back to your bathroom stall and take your crayons with you.


2006-05-09 21:02:24
11.   Mike Carminati
No, "Lo Dufus". Thanks, Izzy(!).
2006-05-09 21:58:40
12.   Mike Carminati
And, yes, I am 5. The authorities should now be at your door, you dirty, dirty man.

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