BOSTON–Some call it the most conclusive evidence yet that Whitey Bulger is still very much alive. Others blame it on a power-hungry mayor who wields far too much pull in the inner workings of the city, including the fortunes of the Hub’s professional baseball team.
Whatever the causes, the data is irrefutable: Umpires are simply afraid to call a third strike on a Red Sox batter in late inning situations at Fenway Park. In a city that cares so deeply about their beloved local nine, umpires take a substantial risk in calling strikes during late-game situations.
The latest evidence came in Wednesday night’s dramatic 9-8 comeback victory in which Nick Green appeared to take a game-ending third strike from Brian Fuentes. The pitch was called ball four and Green’s walk drew in the game-tying run, much to the chagrin of Mike Scioscia, a former player so bland in personality during his playing days that the writers for The Simpsons didn’t even bother naming the mysterious ailment that kept him from playing for the Springfield Isotopes in a 1992 episode. After the game, the Angels manager and several players intimated that umpires’ non-calls on Red Sox hitters is a chronic issue.
One former and one current Major League umpire are confirming the Late-Inning Fenway Factor bias, a phenomenon unrivaled at other ballparks around the league.
“Do you want the lingering members of the Irish and Italian mob coming after you?” asked a former MLB umpire speaking on condition of anonymity. “Boston’s drug and gambling rackets dried up years ago…All these guys do now is watch baseball and complain about the umpiring. They know us all by name…I guarantee it. Down in New York, the mobsters have better things to do, but not up here…”
Others explain the phenomenon as a symptom of Mayor Thomas Menino’s unchecked power over the city’s operations, a key rallying cry of mayoral hopefuls Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty.
“What if I want to paint the shutters on my house in West Roxbury? You think Mayor Menino’s gonna back the BRA zoning to do that if I’m the reason the Sox lost?” reasoned a current American League umpire who worked a series at Fenway earlier this summer.
The retired umpire concurred. “Menino’s only but a few miles away and ready to sic his cronies on us any minute. Whitey worries me the most, though. What if he’s watching in Thailand or Fiji or the North Pole or wherever he is and decides to come back and exact some justice on one of us for a bad call? It’s not worth it.”
“If it’s close, you call it a ball…everyone knows that,” said the active AL ump.
Pitch f/x data analyses indicate that, indeed, called strikes at Fenway Park are rare when Red Sox players are batting in the seventh inning or later. Analysts suggest that high-walk-rate players such as J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis would have on-base percentages about 50 points below their current levels were it not for the Late-Inning Fenway Factor.
“My guess is that the umpire last night knew darn well that pitch to Green was strike three,” said the retired umpire. “And that guy at first wasn’t going to ring him up on that check swing, either. I know for a fact that guy has a grandson in the Boston school system. Menino would ship that kid out to some charter school in Roxbury so quick his head would spin.”
Verbal abuse from the fans was also cited as an explanation for the Late-Inning Fenway Factor bias.
“Some of the things these people yell about me and – god rest her soul, about my late mother – are just awful,” said the active umpire. “And those Boston accents they have…they just make everything come out so hurtful. Fans in other cities like St. Louis are just too classy to yell things like you hear in Boston. If I call a strike on a Cardinals player, the fans applaud my honesty.”