April 30, 2018

Umpire C.B. Bucknor Changes The Game's Rules On The Fly To Screw Over A Royals Batter - And The Kansas City Announcers Say It's The Player's Fault

At some point, we are going to learn that C.B. Bucknor has been blind since birth and in that moment, everything about his career as a major league umpire will make perfect sense.

A Yahoo headline from April 2017 stated: "This Call From Umpire CB Bucknor Might Be One Of The Worst In History" After the game in question, former player Ray Knight (now an analyst for Nationals games) said:
This guy's struggled forever. I'm just gonna be candid with you, he has never been a good umpire. And I hate to cut people down, but gosh darn, how long are they going to go with this guy? Honestly, Johnny, that was the worst game I've seen called, except the last game I saw him call behind the plate. He is brutal back there.
Several other broadcasters agreed: "This is embarrassing." ... "An absolute joke." ... "I don't even think [Bucknor] knows what town he's in right now." ... "[I] haven't seen a home plate umpire have a nightmare behind the plate like this in a long, long time." ... "I've seen Bucknor call a lot of games but that was rock bottom." ... "The league has to do something about this. That's just pure incompetence."

And then, the very next night, Bucknor's incompetence put him in the headlines again. This time, it was Sports Illustrated: "Bucknor really needs to get his act together because this is getting out of control."

In 2009, Rob Neyer reported that Bucknor "has twice been selected by the players as the worst umpire in the major leagues: first in 2003 and most recently in 2006."

Around the same time, Curt Schilling wrote: "I just don't think he's a very good ump and in his tenure in the big leagues has not improved even a little. ... The MLB umpiring system is the most flawed thing in the sport. There is very little oversight or demand for a major league level of performance."

In the process of getting these quotes, I also saw this tweet: "If I was as bad at life at CB Bucknor is at umpiring I'd be dead."

Okay, so I was listening to the Royals radio broadcast on Monday night. In the top of the seventh, Abraham Almonte took a 3-1 pitch from Carson Smith that he thought was outside. He tossed his bat away and took a few steps towards first base before home plate umpire Bucknor called the pitch a strike. Almonte stopped, put both of his hands on top of his head/helmet and hopped up and down, before walking back to the plate.
Ryan Lefebvre: Called strike! Almonte had thrown the bat over to the dugout. I have never - ever - understood what there is to gain by throwing the bat before you hear from the [umpire] and running up the line. There is no trophy, ribbon, badge, or any kind of gift basket for hustling down to first base.

Strike three over the outside - and that pitch was outside. And the Royals aren't very happy about it. But Almonte may have set himself up on the pitch before that. And he's down on strikes.

And we were mentioning earlier in the game C.B. Bucknor has had a pretty tight strike zone. That was NOT in the strike zone. It was close, [but] it was not in the strike zone. ... And I've always felt like you are asking for it if you do that at the major league level. Or at any level. ... There is nothing good - and potentially only something bad is going to come from running out of the batters' box when you think it's ball 4 and you have not heard from the umpire.

Denny Matthews: Just wait for confirmation.

Lefebvre: Yeah.

Matthews: One way or the other. You've only got two ways to go. Down to first or back to the dugout.

Lefebvre: Right.
Here is Almonte's plate appearance against Carson Smith, from BrooksBaseball. As you can see, Bucknor blew the call on Pitch #5, the one on which Almonte tossed his bat. Bucknor's reputation has me wondering if he initially judged the pitch as a ball, but when he saw Almonte move slightly towards first, he quickly decided to call it a strike. ... And then he blew the next pitch, too (Pitch #6), ringing up Almonte on what was actually Ball 5.

Lefebvre flatly states that Bucknor made the wrong call. But while his comments make it very clear that an umpire will exact his revenge for any perceived slight, both he and Matthews end up blaming the victim.

The moral of Lefebvre's comments is that a player should not act in such a way that forces the umpire to retaliate against him. If a player doesn't want that to happen, then he shouldn't act in a way that will provoke the umpire. In Lefebvre's scenario, Bucknor has no control over his own actions. He is somehow forced to make bad calls because of what the player has done.

Plus, Lefebvre is not consistent with his logic. He says that "only something bad" will happen if you head to first base "when you think it's ball 4". But he said earlier that the pitch was ball 4. Almonte was 100% correct. He had drawn a base on balls. ... However, Lefebvre still blames him for Bucknor getting two calls wrong and sending Almonte back to the dugout.

The announcers make it clear that Bucknor blew the call on ball 4, but they stop there. They don't - but they absolutely should - call him out for changing the rules of the game to personally punish a player who did something he did not like. That is a far worse transgression than leaving the batters' box one or two seconds early.

In a perfect world, any umpire who decided on his own to change the rules based on his own personal biases or some imagined threat to his authority would be fired between innings. In the world that actually exists, that type of behaviour is complained about for maybe 60 seconds (or in a few paragraphs in the next day's newspaper) and then forgotten. It is accepted as "the way the game works".

And perhaps Bucknor is relaxing back at his hotel room, maybe even as I'm typing this, smiling as he thinks about calling Almonte out on "strikes". I'll bet that guy won't toss his bat in front of me again.

Also: In the first or second inning, Matthews said: "C.B. Bucknor is the home plate umpire. [two beats of silence] I will say no more about that." This is Matthews's 50th season calling Royals games. He is well familiar with Bucknor's body of work.


Jere said...

This is on the same night where Remy was saying how it's okay if an umpire is calling balls/strikes WRONG, as long as he's consistently wrong.

allan said...

It's not just Remy, sadly. Just about every announcer I have ever heard talk about the subject would agree with him.

What other business exists where if you made the same mistakes all day, every day - for years! - you not only keep your job but get big raises and extra perks?

How many teams would keep a hitter around who always swung at curves 3 feet out of the zone? "Well, at least he consistently swings and misses at those pitches! Let's make him the cleanup hitter!"