Over the last few weeks, calls for replay have reached an all-time high, as epic failures by umpires in playoff games have brought the Umpocalypse upon us. However, while replay should be pursued and will help correct the most egregious mistakes, it does not get at the core of the problem. While umpires may be as good as they have ever been, that is no longer enough. Their mistakes have been exposed by technology that allows us to analyze every decision they make, such that MLB is losing some legitimacy due to their lack of competence. I have a few ideas for helping MLB ameliorate this issue, and hope that you will contibute some solutions of your own in the comments.
1) Train umpires in-house: This is an important problem, and it is one that shocks me each time I think about it. Major League Baseball does not train their own umpires, leaving that task to the umpires themselves. This is an untenable state of affairs, as quality control begins at the training stage, and younger umpires are being trained by the very umpires that we find to be incompetent. How can you expect those umpires to be better than those that they are learning from when they have no external influences involved in their formative training? Obviously, even if MLB takes control of umpire training, existing umpires will need to be involved in the schooling. However, MLB needs to have some oversight to ensure proper quality control.
2) Pay at the minor league level: Major League umpires make somewhere between $100,000 and 350,000, a tidy sum for a job that only requires 6 months of work. However, minor league umpires make a pittance despite intense travel schedules and fairly poor working conditions. Being that there are not that many Major League slots and that umpires only release those jobs upon retirement, it is obvious to see why intelligent candidates might eschew umpiring as a career choice. Why endure tough conditions for little money on the off chance that you make the majors when you can make more doing something else? There is little incentive for the best potential candidates to become umpires, leaving us with second-tier talents to train. Major League Baseball should make an investment in the sport and offer higher salaries to umpires at the minor league level. Enticing better umpire candidates should be a priority for MLB in solving their officiating problem.
3) Rigorous evaluation: As I mentioned in the last section, umpires are entrenched at the Major league level, such that those in the minors have little chance of making it to the show. Furthermore, while umpires are evaluated in the current system, there does not seem to be much in the way of repercussions for a poor evaluation. Both problems can be fixed by instituting a system whereby umpires can be sent down to the minors based on poor evaluations, with umpires who have scored well at AAA taking their places. This would incentivize umpires to perform at an optimal level every night, and show fans and players that umpires are being held accountable for their actions. This would also help clear out some of the dead weight that has accumulated in the umpiring ranks over the years, as all umpires would be subject to the evaluation system.
What do you think about these ideas? How would you address the umpiring problem?
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