On the (in)fluency of professional umpires

Es muy fácil: The Boston Red Sox lost their best hitter and fielder last night because some fill-in umpire named Dan Bellino don’t speak Spanish no good.

Bellino’s ignorance likely did not cost Boston a win. After all, the Sox were facing Felix Hernandez, who would be a frontrunner for the AL Cy Young if the season ended today (assuming the Boston media’s unhealthy obsession with Clay Buchholz’s win total and ERA has not spread into some kind of national pandemic).

On the other hand, Bellino did succeed in embarrassing the integrity of Major League Baseball—coincidentally, much like his crew chief (Joe West) has done so many times before.

In theory, the notion of a “human element” in baseball is a good thing. Unfortunately, kind of like the whole “bullpen-by-committee” idea, it is a concept that can too often be sabotaged if the right personnel are not in place. Bellino is just the latest example of too many umpires’ inherent desire to become part of the story. (There are some journalists in this town who often suffer a similar affliction.)

Bellino’s ignorance of what was actually transpiring on the field (two former teammates engaging in some fairly innocent trash-talk) injected a “human element” that has no business anywhere in America, particularly on a baseball diamond: cultural insensitivity.

The fact that Bellino wasn’t smart enough to realize Adrian Beltre wasn’t speaking to him as he took grounders at third base is bad. That Bellino did not or could not accept that he wasn’t part of the story, that Beltre and King Felix were merely engaging in some friendly jawing, is worse. And, on top of it all, that a 31-year-old, over-his-head, just-called-up, mercenary of a home plate umpire was not man enough to take the opportunity to correct his mistake is a downright embarrassment. (Beltre, for his part, hadn’t been ejected from a game since he was a Dodger six years ago.)

The precedent is set. (Bellino ought to understand this, as he actually holds a law degree.) An umpire may stand behind the veil of lingual ignorance if he feels the need to make a statement. Worse, unwritten code dictates that fellow members of the crew (Angel Hernandez) should stand by ejections, no matter how indefensible they may be. Both Bellino and Hernandez must have realized the error of Beltre’s ejection, as neither would provide Terry Francona with an explanation, whether spoken in English, Spanish or Pig Latin.

Given the demographics throughout professional baseball, both major league and minor league umpires should be required to speak Spanish beyond just recognizing cuss words when they are tossed around on the field. After all, their primary job is to communicate various decisions with the players and coaches on the field.

On occasions when someone a bit less…”cultured” must umpire home plate in a pinch, perhaps they could at least be reminded of their rightful place within the game.

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