Umpire Fieldin Culbreth suspended for not knowing the rules


Shocker: MLB acts!

Bill James once observed that Joe Torre bears a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon. Maybe that's why now that he's in an executive position at MLB and does something typically passive, like admitting an umpire's call was wrong but refusing to reverse it, I am reminded of the old Trickster himself talking with John Dean on the Watergate tapes:

Granting executive clemency to Howard Hunt -- "You don't do it politically until after the '74 elections, that's for sure," Mr. Nixon told Dean. When Dean suggested that "it may further involve you in a way you should not be involved in this," the President replied: "No -- it is wrong, that's for sure."

That's Joe Torre, a broken record saying, "No -- it is wrong, that's for sure," again and again, but still letting whatever the "wrong" thing is stand. It's all hilarious until you realize that it hides a deeper dysfunction. That is why it is deeply shocking that MLB will act to discipline an umpiring crew chief, Fieldin Culbreth, who allowed a manager to break a rule that has been on the books in various forms for 104 years.

Culbreth was also fined an undisclosed amount.

On Thursday night in Houston, the crew chief and his umpires forgot one of baseball's most basic rules and allowed Astros manager Bo Porter to remove a pitcher from the game without his facing one batter. Porter had concocted an elaborate fantasy in which MLB had changed the rule so that, "If you have to pinch-hit for that batter, you now have the right to bring in another pitcher. Technically, Wesley came in to pitch the batter that was scheduled to hit [Shuck] but he pinch-hit for the batter that was scheduled to hit. Which, from my understanding of the rule, you can bring in another pitcher to face the pinch-hitter."

Actually, no; what Porter described is exactly what the rule is intended to prevent. There used to be a time when managers studied the rule book so that they would know (a) when they could gain an advantage, and (b) when they were being taken advantage of. Those days are gone, but then, so are the days of players wearing high socks so the umpire could have a bright line drawn where the strike zone ended (think about it -- it makes perfect sense). For that matter, a protest hasn't been upheld in nearly 30 years. Fairness takes a back seat to just getting it over with and not complicating the schedule.

Baseball ducked a bullet last night in that the Angels came back to win the game, thereby obviating the need to replay the game from the point of the protest, a protest that almost certainly would have had to be upheld (though it's worth noting that if, in view of the official reviewing the protest the rules violation did not affect the outcome of the game, the replay can be denied). MLB's normal tolerance for this kind of thing is troubling; if, in the old days, umpires derived their legitimacy from being sacrosanct authority figures who could control a rough game, now they derive it from being professionals. Events such as this one undermine that legitimacy at a very basic level.

As such, it's heartening to see MLB take some action to discipline an umpire for being unable to perform his job at its most rudimentary level -- here is a book, learn it -- but they still have a long way to go to restore faith in their arbiters.

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