Angel Hernandez: A Lawsuit with Merit?

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 28: MLB umpire Angel Hernandez #55 stands on the field before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics at AT&T Park on June 28, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The Oakland Athletics defeated the San Francisco Giants 13-11. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball umpire Angel Hernandez has brought a lawsuit against the league that has employed him for a quarter century. His allegations are that he and other umpires of color are being held back, in deference to white umpires. These are serious accusations; if Hernandez’s allegations aren’t validated, it could undermine legitimate cases of racism that genuinely do exist, in sports and in society.

Angel Hernandez: A Lawsuit With Merit?

Sports: A Microcosm of Society

Without question, sports are a microcosm of our society. Today, we regularly hear allegations of racism in America. In many instances, they are absolutely valid. But in other cases, the people or groups bringing the allegations are merely using them as excuses for their own shortcomings. Unfortunately, these people never understand that when they bring unwarranted racial allegations, they taint ones with merit. Every time the race card is played, it should be with the utmost thought and consideration to the ramifications that will stem from it. Otherwise, people of all backgrounds become numb to it all, say “here we go again”, and it becomes noise. This would not be good in society and or sports.

The Accused

In his lawsuit, Hernandez has accused Major League Baseball, Commissioner Rob Manfred, and Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre of selecting umpires for higher positions based on “national origin and/or ethnic considerations”. Since taking over as commissioner from Bud Selig, there has been no indicator of major issues with Manfred. It would be easier to understand if we were talking about the NFL’s Roger Goodell, who is regularly surrounded by controversy. Manfred, however, has presented himself as above board and willing to listen to opposing viewpoints on anything, from player’s issues with the strike zone, to considering the prospects of Pete Rose‘s eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

Integrity Beyond Reproach

From his playing days, to his time as a Major League manager, and since he joined MLB’s front office in 2011, Torre’s integrity and character have been beyond reproach. Despite being hard-nosed and stoic, he has always been the epitome of class. However, Torre has been singled out by Hernandez, in part due to a beef they had in 2001 when he was managing the New York Yankees. To envision him participating in a racist conspiracy to hold back umpires of color goes against anything we have ever seen from, or heard of, Torre. That’s especially difficult to imagine when you consider that in 2015, Torre led a trip to Cuba composed of MLB officials and players, which helped relations between the two countries. This fact is not helpful for Hernandez’s case; he was born in Havana.

Empirical Evidence

Though one might think this should be cut and dry with facts that are readily available, it’s very difficult to nail down empirical evidence on this issue. There are several things we do know. We know that Hernandez has been widely criticized; in 2010, a poll of 100 players rated Hernandez as the third-worst umpire in the league. Yet, in 24+ seasons, he has umpired seven championship series and two World Series. That hardly sounds like a person getting it stuck to them in the work place. Without question, Major League Baseball is preparing for court, putting together all the statistical evidence that validates why Hernandez status has never been promoted from temporary to permanent crew chief.

Brought Along for the Ride

It’s highly likely that Laz Diaz and C.B. Bucknor, both umpires of color, would prefer this issue not be raised. They are regularly criticized for their job performance and the scrutiny that will occur because of this lawsuit is not helpful for them. The potential for their names to figure negatively and prominently in the proceedings, through no fault of their own, is probable because the league will have to demonstrate why none have been promoted, not just Hernandez.

He’s Just a Baseball Umpire!

Most people have no feeling about Hernandez, one way or the other; after all, he’s just an umpire. Having grown up in a big city and played many years of team sports where people of different races and backgrounds all hung together without prejudice, and served in the army where your “brothers” are from all races, I believe race should play no role in deciding merit for promotions. Most people despise it when an issue of race plays a role in fairness, no matter who it’s against.

Bottom Line

Hernandez case, at least to this point, seems shaky at best. Unless there is a smoking gun or quantifiable evidence which exposes a systematic effort to hold back umpires of color, Hernandez is only doing a disservice to future cases of legitimate racism, in and out of baseball. It merely sets conditions, down the road, for many people to internally wrestle with “Here We Go Again” syndrome.

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