Without question, the least popular umpire in Major League Baseball is Angel Hernandez. He has had his struggles and has been criticized accordingly. His name is noticeably absent from the All-Star Game almost every season – he’s called only three (1999, 2009, 2017) in his 28-year career. He’s called two World Series, but both were in Dubya’s first presidential term (2002, 2005). Since special assignments are based on merit, this stands to reason.
In 2017, Hernandez sued Major League Baseball in federal court, claiming that he has been overlooked for postseason assignments and crew chief promotions due to racial discrimination and a personal vendetta from Joe Torre. Since the suit, he has received assignments for the 2017 All-Star Game and the Division Series in 2017 and 2018.
His 2018 assignment was the series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Game Three was embarrassing. Hernandez, the first base umpire, had three of his calls overturned by replay in the first four innings. This did not help his cause.
Angel Hernandez’s Reputation Precedes Him
Angel Hernandez has his reputation preceding him. One unfortunate reality of officiating is this: once an umpire blows a series of calls (or is perceived as doing so) involving a certain team, he will never be able to do anything right in their eyes again. This reality reared its ugly head in Boston Tuesday night during the game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox.
There were three ejections in that game – Red Sox center fielder Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and Rangers manager Chris Woodward. Immediately, fans and pundits took shots at Angel Hernandez. Some comments seen by this author in message boards include, “Angel Hernandez is the biggest reason we need robo-umps,” “Hernandez needs to be sent to the minors,” and “something always happens when Angel Hernandez is behind the plate.” Crass insults were written, also. There are claims that it’s getting hard not to be ejected from a game with Angel Hernandez on the crew. But is this fair?
The Game: Rangers 9, Red Sox 5, Tuesday, June 12th
This author made notes of Angel Hernandez’s strike zone in this game. The teams combined to throw 366 pitches. Hernandez called 360 of them correctly – an accuracy rate of 98.4%. Strike three to Rangers right fielder Nomar Mazara in the top of the second looked outside. Ball three to Rangers left fielder Danny Santana in the top of the third looked like a strike, as did ball four to Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus in the top of the third. Strike two to Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor in the top of the third looked outside, as did strike two to Andrus in the top of the eighth. Finally, strike three to Rangers third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera in the top of the ninth looked inside and drew a brief argument. It should be noted that of the six, none were egregiously bad. Now for the ejections…
Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox center fielder
Alex Cora, Boston Red Sox manager
Tuesday, June 11, vs. Texas Rangers, bottom of the fifth
Vic Carapazza (1B)
Benintendi dug in for his third plate appearance of the game with one out and the bases empty in the bottom of the fifth. The first pitch was a tailing fastball waist-high that crossed the plate directly over the outside corner. Hernandez called strike one. The next pitch, which was about six inches below Benintendi’s knees, was grounded to short. Benintendi was out at first by about a step. He turned around, looked at Hernandez, and yelled, “G__D____ you (expletive) suck!” First base umpire Vic Carapazza heard Benintendi and promptly ejected him.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora came out of the dugout to argue the ejection of his center fielder. He claimed that Benintendi was walking away and shouldn’t have been thrown out. He also claimed that since Benintendi was talking to Hernandez and not Carapazza, he shouldn’t have been thrown out.
Before leaving the dugout, Benintendi got in a parting shot at Carapazza, saying, “You (expletive) suck, too! You’re (expletive) garbage, too!”
Understand the frustration?
With the umpire calls, no. It seemed that the Red Sox were frustrated with how their team was playing and took it out on the umpires.
Was the ejection justified?
Absolutely. What Benintendi did and said was unacceptable. Every umpire in the league would have thrown him out for that. As far as Cora goes, his argument was both long and animated enough to warrant an ejection. Furthermore, he most likely was going to stay out there arguing until he was ejected.
Also, Cora’s two defenses of Benintendi were nonsensical. Benintendi can’t be yelling that at an umpire and expect to stay in the game. Secondly, it is ludicrous to claim that an umpire can’t throw a player out for yelling that type of stuff at his partner.
Benintendi earned One Weaver for his ejection being so low-key. Cora’s ejection earned Three Weavers. It was fun to watch, but he didn’t quite reach the level of “blowing a gasket” required for a higher rating.
Chris Woodward, Texas Rangers manager
Tuesday, June 11, at Boston Red Sox, top of the sixth
Angel Hernandez (HP)
Rangers third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera batted with one out in the top of the sixth. There was nobody on base, and the Rangers led 9-3. On 0-2, he laced a drive off the Monster in left. Left fielder Sam Travis played the carom quickly and fired the ball to second. Cabrera slid feet-first. Second base umpire Jordan Baker signaled safe but immediately changed his call to out.
What happened there? Baker was on the mound side of second base. Cabrera slid with his chest toward the umpire and his right foot pointed. His left leg was bent. The tag came on Cabrera’s left knee. Baker most likely thought that the high tag meant that the right foot was already on the bag. He probably then looked down to see that Cabrera’s foot never touched the bag. Although Baker got the call right, calling “safe-OUT!” never looks good.
Meanwhile, the Rangers dugout was scrambling to see if it wanted to challenge the call. As the 30 seconds were expiring, Hernandez asked for a final answer, but Woodward’s back was turned, so Hernandez proceeded with the game.
At this point Woodward sprinted out of the dugout, demanding a challenge. When Hernandez told him it was too late, Woodward vehemently protested. He then started telling Hernandez that it was (expletive) bull/horse (expletive) repeatedly. Hernandez warned him, but Woodward continued, so Hernandez tossed him.
Understand the frustration?
Yes, since the Rangers missed their window of opportunity to challenge. (They lucked out without realizing it, since they would have lost the challenge, but still…) Woodward also had missed a challenge opportunity in Oakland two days prior.
Was the ejection justified?
Yes. Hernandez let Woodward vent a bit before warning him. Woodward then persisted.
Three Weavers. Woodward made the first ejection of his managerial career count. It was fun to watch.
Is Angel Hernandez That Bad?
How many ejections has Angel Hernandez had this year? When listening to fans and reading message boards, one would think that he has at least 10. Nope. Only one — Woodward. How many ejections does Carapazza have? Three – two in this game and one in the first week of the season. What happened in that one? Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals tried to check his swing with two strikes. Carapazza – the third base umpire – ruled on appeal that Carpenter had swung. Carpenter pointed his bat at him and yelled, “You suck!” Sound familiar?
Angel Hernandez has made his enemies, yes. But is he really that bad? He’s not one of the 10 best umpires in the league, that’s true. Is he “the worst,” as so many people have claimed? No. That distinction is being fought over by Mike Estabrook and Jeremie Rehak. (Estabrook has ejected six people – four over his shaky strike zone. Rehak has ejected four – all regarding his strike zone. He’s in second place behind Estabrook, and the scary thing is – Rehak isn’t even a full-time major league umpire. He’s a minor league call-up.) Hernandez is somewhere in between.
Fans can forgive players. They’re human, and baseball is a cruel game. Even the best players around can make mistakes. Why can’t they forgive umpires? They’re human, too. No umpire in the league is ever going to call a game perfectly, but they’re going to try to come as close as they can to doing so. Isn’t that all we can ask of them? If they hustle to get in the best position to see the play and try to make the most accurate call they can, they’re almost always going to be right. This includes Angel Hernandez.
Criticisms of Hernandez need to be fair. If he honestly goofs something up, then it is fair to criticize him. If he doesn’t, then it’s not. It is not fair to criticize him in this situation. Angel Hernandez called a good game Tuesday night in Boston. Save the criticisms for a time when he actually deserves it.
Evan Thompson played baseball as a youth and teenager. He also umpired between 1995 and 2004 and has coached at the high school level. He is the author of the weekly Ejection Inspection series.
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