The awful umpiring of Ángel Hernández and why his lawsuit against his MLB bosses falls flat

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – In the case of Hernández v. the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, longtime umpire Ángel Hernández alleges Major League Baseball discriminated against him because he is of Latino descent by declining to name him a crew chief and preventing him from working World Series games. Given the plum assignment of first base in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Monday night, Hernandez proved one thing beyond a reasonable doubt: MLB is guilty of discriminating against getting calls right when it allows Ángel Hernández to umpire a playoff game.

If MLB on Tuesday morning filed an exhibit with the Southern District of New York that consisted of three video clips showing Hernández’s blown calls in Game 3, it might have a dismissal by the afternoon. To miss one call in the playoffs – particularly a high-profile game like the New York Yankees’ largest playoff defeat ever, a 16-1 loss to their rival Boston Red Sox – is bad. To botch a second is unacceptable. To bungle three – the third an especially egregious screw-up – is incompetence personified. And if anything has held back Ángel Hernández from the promotions and responsibilities he clearly believes he deserves, the culprit is far likelier the fact that he’s not particularly good at his job.

This is an opinion shared by players far and wide and voiced on TBS’ postgame show by Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, who said: “He’s as bad as there is.” It does not match the Ángel Hernández portrayed in his lawsuit, which was filed July 3, 2017, eight days before he worked first base at last summer’s All-Star Game.

In it, Hernández describes himself as an exemplary umpire, one who received high marks in his reviews until Joe Torre started to oversee umpires in 2011. The lawsuit alleges that a decade-old beef from Torre – dating back to a call when he was managing the New York Yankees in 2001 – led to Hernández being targeted for trying to make himself too big a part of the game.

Noooooo. Ángel Hernández would never do that.

In Game 3, Hernández managed to triple the number of blown calls he’d made in Game 2, when one was overturned on review. Like that one, replay saved him Monday. On a Didi Gregorius bunt in the second inning, he was out. Hernández called him safe. The next inning, Gleyber Torres just beat a throw to first. Hernández called him out. An inning later, as the Red Sox tried to turn a double play, Gregorius clearly stepped on the bag before the throw arrived. Hernández called him out. On the plus side, Hernández did get a call upheld by review in the top of the fourth. Hitting .250 isn’t exactly ideal for hitters. It’s fireable for umpires.

In 1,400 instant-replay cases during the regular season this year, 47.6 percent were overturned, according to MLB. Hernández was at a 75 percent clip in Game 3 and became the sixth umpire since expanded replay in 2014 to have three calls overturned in one game – and the first in the postseason. Through a league official, Hernández declined to comment after the game. In a statement, MLB said: “There were several very close calls at first base tonight, and we are glad that instant replay allowed the umpiring crew to achieve the proper result on all of them.”

Translation: A playoff umpire – one who is supposed to be the best of the best among the 76 MLB employs – is bad enough that it’s a good thing the technology exists to save him from himself and us from him. As much as Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce tried to rationalize Hernández’s foibles – “It happens so fast over there,” he said – his final words on the matter better reflected the reality: “Just good thing we have replay. That makes the game right and fair.”

Hernández alleges MLB’s treatment of him personally is neither right nor fair, and while the sections of the lawsuit about Hernández’s accomplishments are shoddily argued with incomplete information and a severe lack of context, it does cover an important point. MLB’s lack of minority umpires is a problem, one that dovetails with its overly white ownership groups and front offices. The cross-section of umpires does not represent the player pool, and even if it’s folly to think player-umpire relations would improve on the basis of race alone – there’s a veritable United Nations of players that would happily draft a resolution to ban Hernández – the sport’s spoken commitment to better opportunities for people of color has not been reflected in its umpire pool.

That doesn’t itself validate Hernández’s lawsuit. Nowhere in it does Hernández offer direct evidence of discrimination directly because of race, as though it’s codified at the league. The two are more like parallel tracks – Hernández is from Cuba, and he hasn’t moved up in status. Ergo, it’s because of his race and not, say, the fact that he blows three calls in a Yankees-Red Sox playoff game.

First-base umpire Angel Hernandez looks on during Game 3 of the ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Monday. (Getty Images)
First-base umpire Angel Hernandez looks on during Game 3 of the ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Monday. (Getty Images)

In seeking recompense for the alleged discrimination, Hernández’s lawyers wrote in the lawsuit: “As a direct and proximate result of Major League Baseball’s wrongful acts and omissions, Hernandez has sustained injuries and damages including … mental anguish; physical and emotional distress; humiliation and embarrassment; and loss of professional reputation.”

Maybe that’s all true – that Hernández believes he has been discriminated against and has anguish and distress and humiliation and embarrassment. But that last one? That last one is just flat ridiculous. Because the reality about Ángel Hernández is that his professional reputation went up in a five-alarm conflagration of his own making years ago. He can talk about his improvement in strike percentage and his high marks in various facets of umpiring the public wouldn’t ever realize were even part of the job. What they do know is his comportment, his demeanor and how players view him. And in all three parts of those jobs, he fails the eye test.

He was exposed for it during Game 3, and for that, of course, he gets to be behind the plate for Game 4 on Tuesday. Yes, Ángel Hernández is the home-plate umpire for what could be a series-ending game for the Red Sox or a season-saving game for the Yankees. As he’s suing MLB for not getting good enough assignments, he gets one of the best in these playoffs.

A cynic might say this was a carrot to the court, a sign that, no, MLB isn’t discriminating against Ángel Hernández and one need only see his duties this October to understand otherwise. More than that, of course, was what it showed. In the words of Pedro Martinez: “Oh, Ángel is horrible.”

Guilty as charged.

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