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Baseball’s “worst umpire” is suing for racial discrimination

Toronto Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson reacts to being called out on strikes to umpire Angel Hernandez, while playing the Baltimore Orioles during the fourth inning of MLB baseball action in Toronto, Tuesday June 27, 2017. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Subject to constant criticism from fans, players, and managers, an umpire’s life is rarely an easy one on the diamond. But usually, the men we call “blue” weather the storm and rise in rank to become crew chiefs and officiate World Series games.

One umpire, Angel Hernandez, has a bone to pick with baseball — but not because dirt’s been kicked in his face. Hernandez has a problem with management.

Umpire Angel Hernandez is suing the league for discrimination, specifically under chief baseball officer Joe Torre. The suit specifically mentions that of the 23 crew chiefs (head umpire in every game) promoted since 2000, none are minorities. Hernandez himself worked in the 2002 and 2005 World Series, and seven League Championship Series.

Hernandez says the chief baseball officer and former Yankee manager has held a grudge against him since 2001, due to a call he made during a game. At the time, Torre remarked that Hernandez “just wanted to be noticed over there.” The Cuban-born Hernandez has also alleged his applications for promotion to crew chief have been denied again and again.

Allegations of racism are not new in baseball. After breaking barriers with Jackie Robinson in 1947, the major leagues were criticized for not having some sort of Rooney Rule in place when it comes to hiring coaches, managers, and executives. (The Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy that requires teams within the league to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs). The first black manager, Frank Robinson, was hired in 1975 in the American League (and the same man in the National League in 1981).

Hernandez probably isn’t the best example for a woke conversation on race in baseball. Although he’s been umpiring since 1991, he’s been routinely ranked among the worst officials in baseball (31st of 36 National League umpires in 1999, 3rd worst umpire in baseball in a 2006 SI players poll), and has also been involved in more than a few short-fuse incidents.

In 2001, Hernandez ejected former Super Bowl champion Steve McMichael from the Wrigley Field press box because he made fun of Hernandez’s call over the PA system. On a more serious note, while serving as a fill-in crew chief in 2013, Hernandez chose not to overturn an Oakland Athletic’s fly ball ruled in play, even after the video replay showed the ball clearing the yellow line in center field. The league, and specifically Joe Torre, confirmed that it was an “improper call,” but the crew chief’s decision was final.

Hernandez’s case is a long shot at best. His problem isn’t Torre or the league, and it certainly isn’t discrimination or racism. Hernandez’s problem is lack of skills as an umpire and a temper as hot as the summer’s heat.

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