Saturday, August 19, 2017

WUA-MLB Relations Deteriorate with New Umpire Protest

The World Umpires Association has launched a protest against what the union decries as the League and Commissioner's Office's latest failure to adequately address escalating verbal attacks on umpires.

WUA released a statement Saturday afternoon in protest of MLB's decision:
WUA President Joe West wears a white band.
The World Umpires Association (WUA), the union representing Major League Baseball umpires, announced today that umpires are wearing white wristbands during all games to protest escalating verbal attacks on umpires and their strong objection to the Office of the Commissioner's response to the verbal attacks.
The World Umpires Association's Governing Board issued the following statement today:
This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez—a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.
The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead [he] got far more lenient treatment—a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters that he has 'no regrets' about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez's career. 
The Office of the Commissioner's lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It's 'open season' on umpires, and that's bad for the game.
Major League umpires hold themselves to high standards. We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are attacked simply for doing our jobs. 
Enough is enough. Umpires will wear the wristbands until our concerns are taken seriously by the Office of the Commissioner. 
How did we get here? Follow along for a timeline of the growing rift between Major League Baseball and its union of umpires. For additional background, you might want to consult the 2016 article, "Psychology & Marketing: Why MLB Discipline is Weak":

January 2011: MLB names former big league manager Joe Torre Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. Torre's last team managed was the Los Angeles Dodgers, which promoted Torre disciple Don Mattingly to the managerial post after Torre left to go work in the Commissioner's Office.
July 14, 2011: Torre splits up the umpiring crew of Joe West and Angel Hernandez, citing too many ejections. At the time, West's five ejections in 2011 were tied for 3rd-most in the League, while Hernandez was tied for 5th-most.
January 4 & March 23, 2012: After resigning from MLB in January 2012 in order to pursue ownership of the Dodgers, which Selig ordered that Frank McCourt sell by April 30, 2012, Torre rejoins the Commissioner's Office after his bid came up short and competitor Guggenheim purchased the LA franchise.
May 15, 2012: Bob Davidson ejects Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel for arguing Davidson's positioning/entanglement with his catcher. Manuel leaves the dugout to argue and a shouting match ensues. MLB suspends Davidson one game for "repeated violations" of the Commissioner's Office policy on situation handling.
June 4, 2012: Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon blasts umpire DJ Reyburn following a game against Los Angeles. Papelbon calls Reyburn "terrible," stating, "He sucked...he probably needs to go back to Triple-A," while criticizing Crew Chief Derryl Cousins for coming to Reyburn's aid post-argument. Papelbon was not suspended for his comments.
August 16, 2012: Angel Campos ejects Dodgers CF Matt Kemp and P Joe Blanton. Neither player is disciplined for post-ejection conduct, but Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly earns himself a two-game suspension from MLB disciplinarian Joe Garagiola Jr. for "excessive arguing." Kemp and Mattingly attempted to push through other umpires to argue—Kemp appeared to bump one. Torre purportedly called Mattingly to inform him of his suspension, and allegedly told him Mattingly that his first priority should have been to get Kemp "under control" before arguing himself. Although Kemp appeared to bump an umpire, Mattingly maintained that "Matt didn't do anything wrong." Campos was released after the 2014 season, with seven years and 585 games of MLB experience to his name.
July 28, 2013: Tim Timmons ejects Red Sox DH David Ortiz for arguing balls and strikes. Ortiz, who took a bat to and destroyed a Baltimore dugout phone, was not suspended for the incident.
August 18, 2013: In a famous GIF, Joe Girardi nearly punches Brian O'Nora following warnings in Boston. Girardi received a fine, but no suspension, while Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster received a five-game punishment for throwing at batter Alex Rodriguez.
September 14, 2014: West ejects Papelbon for a lewd gesture. The ejection turns physical and MLB suspends Joe West one game for initiating physical contact with a player. Papelbon was suspended seven games for his lewd gesture to the fans and for bumping West.
WUA-MLB's CBA runs through 2019.
December 9, 2014: MLB-WUA contract negotiations stall, leading to talks of a potential lockout of WUA umpires. The NBA and NFL have both experienced recent lockouts of their officials.
December 20, 2014: MLB and WUA reach agreement on the most recent (and current) five-year labor agreement. The 2014-era CBA is set to expire in December 2019.
August 2, 2015: John Gibbons returns to the field after being ejected earlier in the game by HP Umpire Jim Wolf. Gibbons receives no suspension.
May 9, 2016: Brian Knight ejects Nationals RF Bryce Harper. As the Nats subsequently walk off the Tigers, Harper returns to the field and curses at Knight. Harper receives a one-game suspension.
Bryce Harper is MLB's "Biggest Hothead."
May 15, 2016: Gibbons again returns to the field after an ejection (Dan Iassogna). This time, the League suspended him three games, but only one of those games was because he returned to the field.
August 22, 2016: Torre issues bulletin ordering managers to stop using video evidence (instant replay) in order to argue balls and strikes. The ploy effectively slowed manager ejections, but increased non-manager coach ejections to a point where overall ball/strike ejections of non-players did not decrease. As a big league manager, Torre himself was ejected 66 times, including 16 ball/strike ejections.
January 2017: MLB hires four umpires to the full-time staff, including Carlos Torres, whose 160 games of Major League experience at the time of his promotion was less than seven other MiLB umpires who were not hired to the Major League staff, including the passed-over Clint Fagan, whose 453 games of MLB experience were second only to hired umpire Adam Hamari's 461 games. For what it's worth, Fagan has not been seen in the Majors since July 2017.
Was Clint Fagan passed over for a job?
June 5, 2017: Hernandez files two charges of discrimination against MLB with the federal US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
June 20, 2017: West officiates his 5,000th career MLB game. In an interview with USA Today to be published in conjunction with West's 5,000th game, West responds to an interviewer's question by identifying Adrian Beltre as the league's biggest complainer.
June 28 & 29, 2017: EEOC issues to Hernandez a Notice of Right to Sue MLB for its discrimination.
July 3, 2017: Hernandez files a discrimination lawsuit against Commissioner's Office & MLB Blue Inc.
August 8, 2017: MLB suspends West three games for comments about Beltre. Beltre later says, "I don't think the suspension was necessary, I know he was kidding. I didn't think it was a big deal."
August 14, 2017: Hernandez ejects Tigers 2B Ian Kinsler for arguing a correctly called strike. After the ejection, Kinsler accuses Hernandez of "messing with baseball games, blatantly," and says of Hernandez, "He needs to find another job. He really does. He's just that bad."
August 18, 2017: MLB fines, but does not suspend, Kinsler. WUA issues a statement of support for Hernandez.

Given all this, why would WUA take the drastic step of staging a white-wristband protest (for one, they can't go on strike per the CBA; second, the current CBA doesn't expire until after the 2019 season)? As I wrote in the 2016 why-discipline-is-weak article, "An umpire derives his/her authority from a league office, assignor, conference, UIC, etc., who entrusts said official with carrying out the umpire's duties on game day." Accordingly, the umpire "must be supported by the office/assignor/conference/UIC, lest the umpire's (and any other umpire's) jurisdiction be diminished and his/her ability to officiate compromised."

If the umpires feel they aren't receiving adequate support to enable them to satisfactorily execute their duties—and if, as Hernandez has alleged in his lawsuit, the misconduct has been going on since Torre's arrival in the Commissioner's Office in 2011—then this is a progressively more severe step to take than last week's "we disagree with the decision to suspend Joe West" or this week's "we stand with Angel Hernandez" comments. The only question, naturally, is...will it work?


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