Action Comprises Giant First Step for MLB
Major League Baseball suspended umpire Bob Davidson for one game last week. The league cited Davidson for "repeated violations" of baseball's "standards for situation handling."
Davidson sat out his one game May 18, while being replaced by a minor league umpire. On the surface, it doesn't seem to be a big deal. But in terms of symbolism, the league's decision to suspend Davidson was huge. This is the first time the league has ever announced such a thing, and it is believed to be the first time MLB has suspended an umpire for doing his job poorly.
The incident that ultimately led to Davidson's suspension was an expletive-laden ejection of Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel. It should be noted, that Manuel received a one-game suspension for a separate umpire confrontation in the same game.
Around the league, Davidson has become notorious for his ability to take any run-of-the-mill argument and elevate it into a major confrontation. Many involved with the sport of baseball have been unhappy with Davidson for what they see as his "grandstanding", and lack of professionalism.
Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated conducted a poll of major league players and Davidson ranked as the fourth worst umpire in the game. However, the larger message from the suspension is the notion of accountability. Of course, umpires are under constant scrutiny by league officials. But the players' biggest complaint with the game's umpiring system is the lack of transparency and public accountability as it relates to the umpires' performances. Let's face it, if a player doesn't perform well, it is visible to all, and there are serious career consequences.
Lately, umpire-player and umpire-manager relations have been in the news fairly often. Recently, with the helmet-bouncing episode involving Toronto's Brett Lawrie, who was given a four-game suspension when he threw his helmet to the ground, and it bounced off home plate umpire Bill Miller.
Obviously, Lawrie's behavior was inexcusable, but Miller's strike zone during the sequence of pitches that led to the argument was pathetic, and while Lawrie gets credited with a strike out in the box score, Miller gets off unblemished.
The game of baseball would be better served if umpires were held to a higher level of public accountability, and with the decision to suspend Bob Davidson, and more importantly, to announce it publicly, MBL has taken a critical and important first step.