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Downsize the Umpire! Ideally, the
2003-01-31 15:04
by Mike Carminati

Downsize the Umpire!

Ideally, the umpire should combine the integrity of a Supreme Court justice, the physical agility of an acrobat, the endurance of Job and the imperturbability of Buddha.

- "The Villains in Blue", Time, August 25, 1961

That sure shows you how times have changed.

As you probably have heard venerable, sexagenarian umpire Bruce Froemming was recorded in a phone conversation referring to fellow MLB employee Cathy Davis in a racist and misogynistic manner. It seems Froemming assessment of Davis was meant as an explanation as to why he booked his own arrangements for the season opener in Japan. The result for Froemming was a 10-game suspension and another visit to to cancel those plans-he ain't going. No turning Japanese for Mr. Froemming, I really think not.

There was a time when calls of "Kill the umpire!" were actually shouted in earnest. Attacks on umpire in the 19th century were not rare. The majors did what they could to support the umps and eventually fans learned to respect these men's integrity and wellbeing if not their decisions. As late as 1940, however, major-league umpires were still attacked-confrontational ump George Magerkurth was attacked by a fan at Ebbetts Field (allegedly so that the man's partner, a pickpocket, could have free reign over the diverted crowd).

Things have changed so dramatically that umpires are on the offensive lately. Confrontational umpires are the norm. In 1999 Richie Phillips led a mass-strike by seppuku that resulted in a new umpires' union and 22 unintentionally resigned umpires. The umpires have to be forced to actually call balls and strikes for goodness' sake.

Froemming himself had been reprimanded for pursuing Mike Piazza for an autograph into the clubhouse, not that there's anything wrond with that. Other than that Froemming's claim to fame may have been being the home plate ump for Milt Pappas perfect game-cum-no-hitter. Pappas blamed losing the perfect game on his ball call on a close pitch to the 27th batter, who had a full count at the time. Now Froemming will be remembered as the umpiral version of Marge Schott, a John Rocker in blue.

Given Time's criteria above Froemming is an apt umpire though. He is as rotund as Buddha and has the integrity of Justice Clarence Thomas. Maybe times haven't changed that much.

As far as acrobatic skills, he seems to have dodged a bullet more easily than the stolid Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. To get off with a 10-day suspension is very lucky on Froemming's part. I have heard of people getting fired from their jobs for less, such as forwarding or just not deleting, emails with off-color jokes.

But how effective can he be as an umpire? Let's see what the reaction is the next time he is behind the plate and makes a call against, say, Shawn Green. Will people question whether he made the call because he is anti-Semitic? How does he feel about blacks, Latins, foreign-born players? I guess we'll just have to wait for his next phone message to find out.

Doesn't just the possibility of impropriety enough to undermine him when we're talking someone whose job it is to make judgement calls, calls that form the backbone of MLB's integrity. If his calls can be questioned due to his personal views, then isn't he undermining the integrity of the game and abnegating the advancements that his fellow umpires have made in the last 150 years. It took many years to put the umpire beyond reproach. He may have been blind, but like the blindfolded justice depicted in the statue, he was fair.

Even without delving into the moral integrity requisite for being an umpire, given the realities of the world in which we live, it is incumbent on MLB to relieve Froemming of his duties at once. Call it retirement. Call it downsizing. Call it rightsizing. Just get him off the field. Meanwhile, Pete Rose's reinstatement appears stalled because of tax problems and his legal visits to casinos. How can a business exist with such divergent moral standards?

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