It is one of the most universal rivalries in all of sports — it’s the fans, players, and coaches against the games’ officiators.
The umpires and referees are there to do a job and depending on what side of the playing field you’re on, they are either making calls in your team’s favor or against them in every way.
But when the officiating becomes a bigger topic than the game itself, that’s where a problem ensues.
Meet Angel Hernandez.
The 59-year-old is one of the most well-known umpires in the big leagues – and not for the right reasons. Just last month the vet called over 20 pitches incorrectly, according to UmpScorecards on Twitter.
Hernandez filed a federal lawsuit against the MLB back in 2017. The lawsuit stated that Hernandez faced racial discrimination in the league’s decision to withhold him from officiating the World Series.
The lawsuit was dismissed in March 2021, with the judge upholding the defense saying that Hernandez lacks the leadership skills needed in high-pressure situations.
In 2018, Boston Red Sox great Pedro Martinez said that the MLB needs to take action regarding Hernandez and his officiating faults.
And just on Tuesday night, Hernandez made one of the worst calls of the 2021 season, fueling the fire that already ablaze around him.
In fact, the fire completely engulfed him in the Royals’ 5-4 loss to the Indians on Wednesday.
MLB Officiating | Behind the Ejections
After a series of poorly-called pitches by Royals rookie Brady Singer, Hernandez called a “hit by pitch” call on Singer’s inside sinker on the Cleveland’s José Ramírez.
Royals field manager Mike Matheny decided to challenge the hit-by-pitch call, which Hernandez claims grazed Ramírez’s jersey.
Royals’ catcher heard the ball hit the bat, signaling a strike. Singer pointed to the bat, knowing it didn’t hit Ramírez’s jersey.
Still, Hernandez remained true to his call and Ramírez trotted to first base.
Heated, Singer returns to the mound. Indians’ Eddie Rosario hit a double to left-center and two runners score.
The Royals’ rookie was tenser than ever and attempted to pick off Rosario at second.
Then something happened that I can recall happening only a handful of times in my time of being a baseball fan.
Hernandez calls a “balk” on Singer.
As the 24-year-old gets ready to toss another one across the plate, he makes a last-second decision in an attempt to pick off Rosario at second.
However, he’d already started to get into his pitching motion, which gave Hernandez the right to call the balk.
Royals’ head coach Mike Matheny exploded out of the dugout to give Hernandez his piece.
Matheny returned to the dugout – we thought it was done.
Out comes Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred.
Eldred exploded in Hernandez’s face, clearly displeased with the calls he’d made against his pitchers that game.
Matheny boxed Eldred out from getting too close to Blue. But it wasn’t enough.
Hernandez ejected them both.
Singer tossed a few more poor pitches and an earned run from the Indians, Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol visited the mound.
As he should have, Singer decided to join Matheny and Eldred in sharing his thoughts on his officiating, expressing his tension – it was well deserved.
But still, Hernandez ejected Brady.
The MLB has been struggling for years to keep a fanbase, grow their audience, and to just “let the kids play.”
Just this season alone, the league has come under fire for fining and suspending players for showing their competitiveness in the way of their game – even when it’s all in good fun.
Just five games into the season, Reds’ outfielder Nick Castellanos was suspended for two games for flexing on Cardinals’ Woodford after scoring on a wild pitch, inciting a bench-clearing scuffle.
Another Reds player got suspended just one month later. Pitcher Amir Garrett was suspended for seven games this week for pounding his chest after striking out Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, then got at by Javier Báez from Chicago’s dugout. Another bench-clearing incident.
And now three ejections in just one inning of a single game.
MLB’s Own Dilemma
This dilemma that the MLB is facing (with MLB officiating) goes so deep that there are many different perspectives and routes you can take.
The league has a responsibility to step in when officiating is inconsistent at the highest level of the game. No umpire is perfect, sure, but when vets like Angel Hernandez are consistent in their faults, something needs to change. MLB officiating needs to change.
Brady Singer is in his first full season of The Show – he doesn’t have the track record to shrug off any poor start. He is in the time of his career where he has everything to prove and when umps are working against everything he’s worked towards, the tension he feels is justified.
While many may not agree with the way Singer behaved, such as yelling Hernandez three inches from his face, this starts in the grassroots of youth sports, where parents are constantly interfering with coaches and officiators just doing their jobs.
However, in this situation – I believe Singer was justified.
Another issue that is constantly in the limelight is the notion the MLB takes when men show their competitiveness on the playing field.
With Castellanos’ and Garrett’s suspension and fines comes the argument on whether or not they deserve their punishment.
Taunting and chirping the other team is as prevalent in little leagues as it is in the big leagues – it brings excitement to those on the bench who may not get to see the playing field as much.
In reality, Castellanos and Garrett were suspended more games for being competitive than the entire 2017 Houston Astros for stealing signs.
If the league wants to continue their “Let the kids play!” campaign, then they need to do just that. Let the kids chirp, let them celebrate, let them get angry.
The MLB is constantly fighting to keep the league’s older fans while introducing the game to younger ones.
It has been under constant scrutiny that they aren’t marketing their players, causing a disservice to the MLB by not growing the game, but also not allowing players to brand themselves their own way, either – whether that be in representing their own brand, such as Trevor Bauer and his content creation company, or having iconic home run celebrations, like Tim Anderson and his bat flips.
One thing is for sure: the game is much more fun to watch when the players and coaches are allowed to be themselves without fear of getting fined or tossed out of the ballpark.
Let’s continue to grow the game and let the kids play.
A SportsEpreneur’s Takeaway
What would a SportsEpreneur say about this? by Eric Kasimov (connect on Twitter)
What’s something under the hood of your business that could be hurting your business? Officiating, while a major part of any sport, isn’t something that is overly focused on. In baseball, the focus is on the teams and players. Throwing, catching, hitting. Getting fans engaged. And so on. The point is, there are more important things on the surface to focus on for baseball, and thus officiating (umpires) takes a back seat–until it’s too late. What’s something not on the surface of your business that is taking a back seat right now? Some examples could be your QuickBooks hasn’t been updated in a few years, your sales team isn’t trained properly, your location is not ideal, your reputation is taking some hits. In that last one regarding reputation–if you are taking some hits on your reputation, it may not be long before Google reviews and Facebook reviews start showing the negatives. Address your service and your unhappy customers now–before it’s too late.
Here’s a recent podcast where we talk content creation and baseball. And we may even touch on some ridiculousness that is MLB officiating.