Now this was some olde-fashioned family base ball Tuesday afternoon — a major league umpire calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher's mound, like they used to do in the 19th century.
After home plate umpire Seth Buckminster (good umpire name) sustained an injury three batters into the first inning of the Milwaukee Brewers-Los Angeles Angels' Cactus League game, base umps Tim McClelland and Jim Joyce were the only officials left on the field. A fourth ump, Anthony Johnson, had left the field with Buckminster, who had suffered a broken in his left hand after a pitch got away from Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta. Johnson went to change into Buckminster's apparently elaborate home-plate gear.
Rather than delay the game any longer, McClelland positioned himself behind the mound to call pitches, Joyce stood elsewhere and Peralta was told to resume pitching. Via MLB.com:
"Just keep it moving," McClelland said. "We didn't want people to sit. Both managers agreed to it, and I knew it wasn't going to be long. This way we didn't have to sit and could keep the game going."
It made for a strange scene, but Peralta induced an inning-ending groundout from Josh Hamilton, and Angels starter Jason Vargas took over in the bottom of the first.
"I don't remember the last time I was pitching like that -- probably Little League when I was, like, 13 years old," said the Dominican-born Peralta. "It just forgot about it and [focused on] the hitters. It felt a little weird when he called, 'Ball!' behind me. It was like, 'Oh, God!'"
What in the name of Old Hoss Radbourn is going on?!
Johnson sprinted back onto the field three batters into the bottom of the first. He took his place behind the catcher with a 1-and-2 count on Ryan Braun and the Brewers leading 2-0 after a home run by Rickie Weeks. The three-man crew finished the game.
As Dayn Perry of CBS Eye on Baseball points out (with the help of a Stew post from the 2012 season), this was the half-realization of James Loney's prophecy about umpires calling balls and strikes from behind the mound, where they theoretically can better judge them. The other half of Loney's prophecy involved robot umpires doing the work. Someone check Jim Joyce for microchips.
Although it was cool to see McClelland in the middle of the action, it does make sense that umpires evolved and moved behind the plate — simply to get one more obstacle off the field. Not too many games pass without batted balls zipping up the middle. We'd have umpires interfering with balls in play (not to mention the players) all of the time. And there'd be a greater risk for injury, too (Buckminster's broken hand notwithstanding). There's never going to be a perfect solution to umpiring, because the game loses a little of its soul with every so-called improvement.