In the wake of two distinctly embarrassing errors by the umpires last week, Joel Sherman's looking for some accountability, and he's got just two suggestions for Major League Baseball:
1. Umpires involved in on-field issues should be available to the media after games, like any other on-field personnel. It was not long ago that was the general rule. Now, at best, a pool reporter is designated to speak to the crew chief, not necessarily the ump involved in a dubious call.
These are not Supreme Court judges. They should not be above questioning, above the rules that apply to other participants in the game. If you can't handle this as a basic part of the job, then don't become a major league ump.
A few years back, Jim Joyce botched a call at first that should have been the 27th out of Armando Galarraga's perfect game. He faced every question afterward with honesty and humanity and was praised. Again, humans make these calls. No one expects 100 percent accuracy. Only 100 percent accountability.
2. Make umpire grades available, at least end-of-season grades. Again, we get statistical or analytical judgments on everyone else in the sport. Why should I know what Matt Harvey does against lefty hitters, but not know if Tim McClelland is good at making calls on the bases?
Sherman's first suggestion would be great for the beat writers, and Sherman's second suggestion would be great for people like Joel Sherman and Rob Neyer, because we could generate a huge number of columns and blog posts from MLB's official end-of-season grades.
Would either suggestion be particularly good for Major League Baseball, though? I don't know.
I mean, it was admirable for Jim Joyce to face "every question with honesty and humanity." But he did that not for baseball, but for himself; for Jim Joyce, facing all those questions seemed like penance. I'm not going to hold it against an umpire who doesn't feel the need for extreme self-flagellation. It does seem that MLB and the umpire need to come up with a consistent, well-understood policy and stick to it. Angel Hernandez spoke to one reporter, briefly, and wouldn't allow the interview to be recorded. That seems like it isn't good enough. But do we want postgame press conferences featuring any and all umpires who might have made a controversial call? At some point, you have to let the events on the field speak for themselves. There is a happy medium in there somewhere, and it's subject to negotiation.
The same goes for the umpires' grades. Sherman seems to think Major League Baseball can just do whatever it likes in this area, but it can't; the umpires would file a grievance and the umpires would win. If MLB wants to release the grades, they'll have to get the umpires' permission via the next labor deal. Don't hold your breath.
The thing is, we can come up with our own grades. The publicly available PITCHf/x data allows just about anyone to estimate with pretty fair accuracy who's doing well behind the plate, and who's not. There's no publicly available information about other missed calls -- plays on the bases, trapped balls in the outfield, etc. -- but that's something that Baseball Info Solutions or STATS could easily handle, if someone makes it worth their while.
Ultimately, what's good for baseball isn't to make umpires answer tough questions from writers, or embarrass them publicly. What's good for baseball is to reward the best umpires, and get rid of the worst umpires. Baseball's biggest problem with umpires is that once they're tenured, it's almost impossible to fire them.
One suggestion, though: merit-based raises. Unions never have any problems with those, right?