Fay Vincent has an Opinion piece in yesterday’s NY Times, titled “Building a Better Umpire” . Citing missed calls in the first round of playoffs, he’s come up with a few suggestions on how to fix “a few fundamental problems with professional baseball’s umpiring system”.

WITH the American League and National League Championship Series under way and the World Series looming, the baseball world is buzzing with criticism of the umpiring during the first round of the playoffs. In a game between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins, for example, an umpire called foul a ball that hit the glove of the Yankees left fielder in fair territory — a mistake that may have cost the Twins the game. Such missed calls have led to a renewed outcry for the wider use of instant replay to ensure better officiating. But before we turn to the intrusion and delay that additional use of tape reviews would cause, a few fundamental problems with professional baseball’s umpiring system should be fixed.

From the beginning, umpiring has been seen by those who run baseball as a necessary but marginal aspect of the game. Major League Baseball does not train its own umpires, and therefore it has not established practices that would attract the best people. Those who wish to enter the profession attend schools run by former umpires. But these are entirely private businesses; the commissioner of baseball doesn’t control the curriculum, manage the training or do anything to lure people of all races and ethnic groups to become umpires.

After graduation, new umpires seek jobs with the minor leagues, which hire and fire officials separately from the major leagues. The beginning salary for a junior umpire is about $9,500 for the five-month season, hardly a living wage. A young umpire may spend as many as 10 years in the minors, earning at most about $20,000 at the Triple-A level and scratching around for other work during the off-season.

To attract the kind of young people any business would want, Major League Baseball should establish a thoroughly professional training system for umpires — and ensure that every official it hires is up to the job.

The second major flaw in the present system is the way in which umpires are selected to work in postseason series. In the National Football League, only those officials with the highest performance scores during the regular season are chosen for the postseason. This rating system is carefully conducted to make sure that grades are based on the accuracy of calls made and not on friendship or other improper considerations.

Baseball, sadly, has no such system. Instead, umpires are selected for the postseason by Major League Baseball executives with guidance from umpiring supervisors. Over the years, there has been an understandable though regrettable tendency to give every umpire, even the least competent, the opportunity to work a World Series. And I am not the only one who has seen some of them miss calls that better umpires would have made correctly.

A fair rating system would ensure that only the best umpires worked in the most important games of the year. And there should be no need to limit the number of postseason games those umpires could work.

The system I propose would work even better if postseason umpires did away with the practice of sharing their fees with colleagues who don’t work in the postseason. Even though those who work get a greater share of the money, this sharing reduces an umpire’s financial incentive to win a job in the postseason. I would also greatly increase the pay for postseason umpiring to make the assignments very rewarding.

Baseball has some wonderfully talented umpires, and there will always be bad calls — as there will always be errors made by players in the field. But Major League Baseball needs to upgrade umpiring, as it has so many other aspects of the game.

Fay Vincent was the commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1989 to 1992.

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