Saturday, February 11, 2012

Conflict of Interest or No-Brainer? Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring Banned from Minor League Baseball

Former MLB Umpire Jim Evans
When Jim Evans opened his Academy for Professional Umpiring in 1989, the 28-year MLB veteran revitalized the baseball officiating academy experience with extensive hands-on classroom and on-field opportunities for the duration of the five-week professional course that runs from early Jan. to Feb. each year.

However, by the time the 2012 course had concluded, Minor League Baseball and its subsidiary the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp were investigating the Evans Academy for deplorable conduct alleged to have occurred during an Academy-sponsored bowling party.

During that event, one team of Academy employees allegedly donned costumes associated with the Ku Klux Klan and bowled under a racially insensitive team name—Klein's Kleaning Krew.

After the league's review, MiLB president Pat O'Conner concluded the Academy employees' actions were "reprehensible ... It was shocking, it was offensive, and it was disgusting to me."

As punishment for this misconduct, MiLB has taken the stern step of severing ties with the school, meaning that from this point forward, the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring will not be sending any students to PBUC and MLB's network of professional baseball.

Is this the death penalty for Jim Evans' Academy?

Evans seems to think so: "I like to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but ... it seems like a conflict of interest."

Evans is referring to MiLB itself, which opened up its own Umpire School just this past year. The Umpire School competes with Evans and a third school—the Wendelstedt Umpire School—for course attendees hoping to break into professional baseball as a minor league umpire.

Prior to 2012, only the Evans Academy and Wendelstedt Umpire School competed for the business of drawing prospective umpires to their PBUC-feeder programs.

The Wendelstedt Umpire School is not involved in this dispute, though it and The Umpire School stand to reap the rewards if prospective Evans Academy students choose to attend the other schools in the wake of the Academy's banishment.

For the Jan. 2012 class, tuition for the Evans Academy cost $2,250 per student. The Umpire School equally cost $2,250 per student while Wendelstedt Umpire School cost $2,320. All three programs additionally offered room and board with the Evans Academy charging $2,950 per student, The Umpire School charging $3,000 and the Wendelstedt Umpire School charging $2,950 per student.

How about that for coincidence?

In 2007, tuition and board cost $2,800 at Wendelstedt and Evans, and while Evans increased the 2008 fee to $2,900, the price of $2,950 at both Wendelstedt and Evans has not changed since 2009.

With the addition of a new school into the fray—another competing business—could there have possibly been undue influence in shutting Evans down for financial gain?

According to Evans, PBUC Executive Director Justin Klemm was involved in MiLB's investigation into the Evans Academy's bowling alley misconduct and was one of those who crafted punishment for the Academy.

Klemm is also Executive Director for The Umpire School, giving credence to Evans' assertion of a conflict of interest.

The Evans Academy employees' actions clearly were indefensible and will reflect poorly on Minor League Baseball, even if MiLB is not the educator involved.

But with the Academy proudly citing that more of its graduates have made it into professional baseball than graduates of any other school—with over 70 percent of MLB umpires having been taught by one of the Academy's senior instructors—MiLB certainly has a perception issue on its hands.

In 2007, University of Texas (Austin) economics professor Daniel Hamermesh concluded that MLB umpires were racist. Of course, one must read past the abstract of his study to see that he drew this conclusion by the narrowest of margins—one missed pitch per game—but the perception issue persists as most readers and consumers of such information do not bother reading so deeply.

In 2011, this theory was revisited and supported by economist Johan Sulaeman before being thoroughly refuted and condemned by Science 2.0 founder Hank Campbell four days later. Still, what of those who saw Sulaeman's study four days before Campbell had a chance to respond?

In this world of "Blame the Official," umpires and referees are already perceived as "biased," have "bad eyes," or are simply "terrible."

Names such as Tim Donaghy and actions like tennis player Serena Williams' seemingly-annual threats and assaults against officials—which often result in a laughable fine equal to one- or two- percent of Williams' tournament earnings—do nothing to conciliate this culture.

Armed with this knowledge, MiLB knows they can't afford to revive racist banter to these poppycock theories.

In the end, the bowling alley incident is an embarrassment to officiating not just in baseball, but across all sports. MiLB is justifiably upset and embarrassed and some degree of punishment was clearly warranted.

The only question is whether, in this case, the severe punishment levied against the Evans Academy fit the misconduct that took place in a bowling alley one January evening in Kissimmee, Florida.

News: For Umpiring School, a Staff Party Proves Costly


Anonymous said...

I'm throwing my red flag and I hope that upon further review, MiLB reverses the call on the field.

Anonymous said...

There has to be more to the story! How can they run a school and investigate a competitor and just be able to put them out of business!? It was a stupid thing to do and very tasteless, but does not warrant a death sentence. What ever happened to our 1st amendment, why are our troops fighting for us? How come when players and managers fly off the handle and belittle an umpire, they only get a small fine or suspension? Why not fire EVERYONE???

Anonymous said...

The story is accurate. Keep in mind to, that when getting to the big leagues, MiLB is just a 'middle man'. This incident was taken all the way to the Commissioner's office, and certain punishments were handed down from the very top of MLB. MiLB is not trying to be a 'competitor' when it comes to umpire schools, but a better option for perspective students.

Anonymous said...

@7:59AM, you mean the way Fox Sports Net became the "better option" for prospective sporting events as opposed to a competitor for ESPN?

Anonymous said...

Leadership starts at the top. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for the minority instructors to work in a place where there was no precedent set from the owner of this company stating that racism wouldn't be tolerated. It only gives further credence to the studies that suggest that umpires are racist.

Anonymous said...

Ok, anonymous 1:02, You're talking out of your ass right now. I attended JEAPU for the second time this year and I can promise you, without a doubt, there was absolutely no racism anywhere to be found. What there WAS was a lot of good-natured jabbing. In this case, someone took it too far with the KKK reference but don't you dare for a second make it out that minority instructors had to endure any sort of racial segregation or mistreatment otherwise, because that's absolutely unfounded and you should be ashamed of yourself to opine on a subject you know so little about.

Anonymous said...

@102 and 210, I'm sure Jim Evans never thought he would have even needed to set rules about it because it seems like such an obvious thing. This was a stupid thing that honestly could have happened anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Without the conflict of interest wrinkle, MiLB's action may well have been warranted. If Evans decides to sue on conflict of interest grounds, MiLB may be forced to reverse the decision.

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