Tim Welke, where were you looking?

5/3/12 in   |   sungrey   |   13 respect

We just passed the end of April and are one month through the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and already the ugly stain on the game is rearing its head again.

No, a big-name Major League Baseball player didn't test positive for steroids or performance enhancers.

Tim Welke blatantly blew a call Wednesday afternoon.

Welke is one of many umpires in Major League Baseball who I wonder about. As in "I wonder how these clowns keep their jobs?"

Before I say anything further, let me say that I think MLB umpires for the most part are a good group of people who get a lot of calls right. The problem with today's game, and the endless slow-motion and stop-motion replays on MLB Network, ESPN and other outlets, is you can easily see when an umpire goofs.

Just like Wednesday afternoon. Only this was no goof. This was Tim Welke wondering "Where is my dinner reservation tonight?"

His mind clearly was not on the game. Otherwise he would have seen that Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton's foot was several steps away from the bag. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jerry Hairston was ruled out by Welke when he reached the base first.

Instantly the defenders will pop up. Well, he didn't have a clear look at the play. Wrong. Welke was looking right at first base and reflexively punched the out signal. After all, that's one more out towards a trip back to the umpires room, right? Where the day's crew can sit down and have a postgame snack?

Someone else may say it's only a regular season game. Fine. But what if the Dodgers are one game out in the National League West... or better yet, one game out of the final wildcard spot? All of a sudden that blown call by Welke is magnified into something worse.

When a pool reporter asked the umpires about the incident, all he got was "no comment." Yes. The dreaded no comment. Far be it for umpires to admit they got a call wrong. The funny thing was Welke was involved on Sunday, April 22, in another botched call that cost the Detroit Tigers a ballgame. In that game, Texas Rangers player Alberto Gonzalez fouled a ball off his knee on a suicide squeeze attempt, only to have Welke call the ball fair and in play. The end result? Texas won 3-2 in 11 innings, robbing the Tigers of a possible victory.

Welke admitted after the game he was wrong. So why not here? Is there an unwritten rule that says Major League Baseball umpires can't admit guilt twice in one year?

Welke is part of a big problem the game faces. Tim Tschida. Greg Gibson. Angel Hernandez. Joe West. CB Bucknor. Sam Holbrook. Phil Cuzzi. Jim Joyce. All of these umpires have notoriously blown calls or demonstrated a lack of experience in games. When said umpires are called out for their shortcomings, they react by tossing the manager. How dare you show up the umpire after all, the most important man on the field.

Enough.

Scoff if you will, but left unchecked this will become a bigger problem than steroids. After all, inconsistent or botched umpiring affects the outcome of games in an even bigger way than performance enhancers ever could.

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig refuses to do anything about the problem. Maybe if he closes his eyes it will go away. Guess what, Bud. Not a chance. Not when leading MLB columnists like Ken Rosenthal and Buster Olney are starting to question the umpiring on a regular basis.

There are ways MLB can relieve this problem. Maybe if the umpires were actually suspended or had pay docked, they might start taking games more seriously.

Maybe if Tim Welke knew his next missed call would cost him five games on the sidelines, he might get the next call right.

Would instant replay ever look good now.

We don't need replay on balls and strikes yet. Things haven't gotten that bad. But fair or foul calls are fair game. Balls that clear the fence or bounce back into play are good. Bang-bang plays at home or on the bases should be examined. Better safe than sorry, after all.

If you think I'm blowing this out of proportion, take a look at the video. If you're rooting for the Dodgers, you'd be saying the same thing.

This has got to stop.
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