Angel Hernandez is a bad umpire.
There are controversial opinions among baseball fans. This is not one of them. Opening an article with that sentence is like proclaiming, "Baseballs … should not be oblong." There are more divisive stands to take.
We all have Angel Hernandez stories. The first time I noticed him was when he called Mark Lewis out on an appeal after scoring on a sacrifice fly. Lewis clearly waited for the ball to be caught before leaving third base. Who takes away a run when they aren't absolutely sure the appeal is legitimate? A bad umpire. I'm still mad about that, 15 years later.
What say you, Ron Washington? Do you have opinions on Angel Hernandez?
"Angel is just bad," Washington said. "That’s all there is to it."
Right, right. What about the Internet? Is there anyone out there who will defend Angel Hernandez?
Huh. And that one result is from a YouTube comment, which are often proof that there's Wi-Fi in the seventh circle of Hell. No, it seems we have a consensus here. No umpire biscuit for you, Angel: You are a bad umpire.
Bryce Harper is just a teenager, remember. He shouldn't know the sordid secrets of Hernandez just yet. It should be a surprise, a box of possum vomit under the Christmas tree. But Hernandez has been screwing games up since before Harper was born. His reputation has to precede him. Harper almost certainly had an idea of what Angel Hernandez was all about before Wednesday's game.
In Harper's third at-bat of Wednesday's game, he was rung up on this pitch:
It was a bad call, of course. To Hernandez's credit, he didn't toss Harper in the ensuing argument. Not that Harper deserved to be tossed, but he gave his opinion for a little longer than some umpires put up with. Harper eventually walked away, livid.
In Harper's fourth at-bat, he worked a 3-0 count with the bases loaded in a one-run game. The first strike was a great pitch -- a perfectly place strike, right on the outside corner. Here's the second strike of the at-bat:
Miserable. But Harper calmly walked back, picked up his bat, and went back to the plate. He was probably okay at this point, thinking that instead of one RBI, maybe he could have four.
Strike three. Rally over. No run for the Nationals. Welcome to Angel Hernandez Town -- population, awful. That call was closer than the previous one, but Harper was still right to think an at-bat was taken away.
Earlier in the season, we wrote about the surprising calm of Bryce Harper. We were expecting a whirling dervish of jackassery, and instead we got a calm, respectful player who never stopped hustling. In his college and minor league career, he had all sorts of flare ups. His college career ended with a two-game suspension after getting ejected from the National Junior College World Series. There is an angry young fire burning in him. The latent Palpatine of Angel Hernandez was the perfect way to nourish that anger and unleash it on the baseball world.
Instead, Harper just barked a little on his way back to the dugout. He wanted to chuck his bat into the stands. He wanted to explode. He was fuming, clearly. Incredibly upset. But he kept in control.
Bryce Harper passed the Angel Hernandez test. He would have been excused if he blew up because a) the game situation, and b) everyone agrees that Angel Hernandez is the worst. Instead, he stayed in the game and drew a walk in the eighth.
At some point we're going to stop being surprised by this. Harper is up much, much earlier than the typical prospect, but he's showing as much poise as a veteran. If you can survive Angel Hernandez without getting tossed, you have a good head on your shoulders.
Also of note: Angel Hernandez is not a particularly good umpire.