I actually saw people wondering earlier today whether they should care about last night’s terrible performance by Angel Hernandez and his crew in Cleveland. It’s only one game, they said. It’s only one bad call. And why should I care how baseball responds to what happens to the A’s and Indians, when I’m not even a fan of those teams? Does it really matter if baseball orders a replay or punishes a guy for a bad judgment call?
On the one hand, I understand the impulse. In the abstract, I get not caring about the games of teams that don’t affect you. As a Twins fan, I really don’t care much what happens to the A’s in any given game. I enjoy watching them, but I don’t have anything invested in it emotionally.
But bad umpiring can strike at any time. It can strike when John Hirschbeck chases the best player in the National League, Bryce Harper, out of a close game, hurting his team's chances of winning. It can strike in the 9th inning, when your team is down a run and desperately needs a home run, like Adam Rosales's, to tie it. It can strike when the opposing manager goes out to the mound to make a pitching change that’s against the rules and the umpires inexplicably allow it, like they did tonight in Houston. It can happen to any team. It can happen to you. And that bad umpiring can affect the results of a single game, and in the most extreme cases, an entire season.
Worse, consistently bad umpiring from a guy like Angel Hernandez leads to the appearance that some of that umpire’s decisions are punitive. For instance, Melvin had had run-ins with Hernandez during the previous game when he was behind the plate, and Hernandez appeared to bait him at one point. Perhaps it seems ridiculous that an umpire would vindictively act against a player or club who had challenged him. But I think we’ve seen evidence that umpires’ responses (on delayed strike calls, for instance) are highly dependent on the batter’s behavior. And even if you disagree with that, Caesar’s wife must be above reproach. There shouldn’t be even the possibility for somebody to get the wrong impression.
When baseball refuses to act and address the shoddy umpiring, it enables future shoddy umpiring from shoddy umpires. It sends the signal that baseball is not interested in protecting the integrity of the games that it expects you to give a damn about. But if baseball won’t care about making sure that the results of its games are fair and accurate, why should any of us care about baseball?