The topic seems to swing around every season: Atlantic League umpires making bad calls.
Maybe the warm weather contributes to it. Maybe the long schedule takes its toll on the minds of players and managers. Or maybe there are actual improvements that need to be made.
To York Revolution manager Andy Etchebarren and some of his players, they would think the latter reason is the best one. Given what has transpired over the past week during Revs' games, they certainly have a good case to make.
The topic of Atlantic League umpiring could not be more timely. Just in the last couple weeks, we have seen quite a few calls at the Major League level that drew the attention of fans and media nationwide.
What's the problem with umpires in the Atlantic League? To summarize it in one word, it would be inconsistency.
"You can't make up a strike zone if it's all over the place," Etchebarren said last Thursday when chatting about some of the umpiring he's seen this season. "If they have a certain one, then you can adjust to that. But if you call strikes this far outside (pointing to his far left), this far low (pointing at his ankles), this far high (pointing above his head), how do you make an adjustment? You don't know where the strike zone is."
Etchebarren said all this before his outburst in Friday's game against Long Island, when he came out of the Revs' dugout in the seventh inning and proceeded to cover home plate with dirt before jawing at and bumping chests with home-plate umpire David Mills, who promptly ejected Etchebarren.
Etch reportedly said afterwards, among many things, that the quality of umpiring in the league needs to improve.
After chatting with Revs' infielder Chris Nowak and catcher Travis Scott last week, they would agree with their manager.
"When umpires can stay out of it and be consistent, that's good," said Nowak, whose ejection during a game two weeks ago was his first in about five years. "But when the calls become black and white, and sometimes umpires take it into their own hands, you get frustrated."
Scott, who was ejected in Saturday's game, said he would compare the experience of the Atlantic League umpires to those in Class High A affiliated ball, but said the speed of the game in the Atlantic League is at a Class AA or Class AAA level.
Improvements: So, what should the league do to improve the quality of umpiring?
For starters, Etchebarren reportedly said Friday he wants umpires with experience beyond Class A ball.
Talking last week with Atlantic League executive director Joe Klein, he said for umpires to become qualified to work for the league, they have to at least go through an umpiring school and that the league prefers umpires have "experience in college or professional" ball.
Instead, the league should make it mandatory to get umps with experience at the Class AA or Class AAA level.
Secondly, maybe the league should consider disciplinary measures for its umpires, either suspensions or fines.
Klein estimated the league fires "about a handful" of umps each year. But aside from the threat of possibly losing their jobs, it seems like umpires really don't have much to worry about.
Players and managers are typically fined $50 when ejected. But when umpires make questionable calls on a nightly basis? Well, maybe they'll lose their job. Or maybe they'll continue going out their business and possibly costing teams games.
Both of the preferred options might mean the league would have to pay its umpires at the same level as umps at the Double-A or Triple-A level to make it enticing enough to come to the Atlantic League.
Like any business, the Atlantic League is always looking at its bottom line. So, maybe allocating more money for umpires isn't good for business.¶ Then again, if that improves the product on the field, shouldn't that be what's most important?
- Reach John Walk at 505-5406 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @YorkSportsGuy.