More Egregious Umpiring: Yorvit Torrealba Suspended Three Games

We’ve had some Awful Umpiring this season, from the Buehrle Balks to the Galarraga One-Hitter, and players are calling out individual umpires by name more than ever before. The recent ESPN poll of major league players about the best and worst umps in baseball was especially revealing: it was the first time in my memory that players were asked their opinion of umpires by name, and while the results were eye-opening they weren’t at all surprising. The worst umpires were CB Bucknor, Joe West, and Angel Hernandez, which we all knew anyway, but it was remarkable to hear the players admit it.

Yorvit Torrealba got suspended for three games after protesting balls and strikes on Monday, when the brim of his batting helmet incidentally touched umpire Larry Vanover. But Vanover escalated the argument considerably. Watch the video, and you’ll see he actually took a step toward Torrealba. Torrealba will have to take the suspension sooner or later — umps are sacrosanct, and no part of you gets to touch any part of them — but Vanover’s actions feed into the overall problem that more and more players are calling out this year: the umpires think the game is about them, they like drawing attention to themselves, and, as a result, it’s hard to trust them to be neutral arbiters.

The parallel problem, of course, is obvious. The more mistakes that umpires make, the easier, and more inevitable, become the arguments for instant replay. Sure, it makes the game seem less “pure,” and it will probably make an almost intolerably long game excruciatingly longer — especially if you imagine Joe Girardi and Terry Francona staring at each other across the top step of their dugouts, challenge flag in hand, ready to call back the slightest miscue, a possibility so nightmarish that it could cause Joe West to wake up screaming. Instant replay is, by its very nature, slow: it’s replay. It’s an imperfect compromise between a world where umpires are the law and a world where umpires aren’t necessary, where a GameDay Pitch Tracker calls strikes and balls and a traffic camera mans first base to call runners safe and out. We have the technology right now to do without umpires. We don’t have the gumption — but we have the tech.

So it makes sense that umpires feel like they’re under attack. They are. Their livelihood is being threatened by the times they live in. However, it’s also being threatened by the individual actions of individual umpires, from the explosively short fuses of Joe West and Bill Hohn to the completely inconsistent strike zones of Angel Hernandez and CB Bucknor. In ordinary times, a good umpire is like a good spy: the best ones are the ones you never hear about or think about at all. These are not ordinary times, and the spotlight is shining brightly. The more they step towards it — like Larry Vanover’s step towards Yorvit Torrealba — the brighter it will shine. The only way for umpires to decrease the drama is to take a step back.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


53 Responses to “More Egregious Umpiring: Yorvit Torrealba Suspended Three Games”

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  1. Pat Andriola says:

    Did you see the Rolen call from yesterday (http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=9077729)?

    One of the most pathetic calls I have ever seen in my life.

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    • Justin says:

      Totally agree. This is not a good example, as this pitch was right on the inside corner. Torrealba got into the umps face and was too aggressive, he should have been thrown out. DON’T ARGUE BALLS AND STRIKES. He deserved the suspension.

      The Rolen call, however, was horrible. I’m a Dodger fan and could easily see that wasn’t a strike. It wasn’t like it was a huge breaking pitch that dropped out of the zone at the end, it was obviously not in the zone! Rolen was much more subdued than Torrealba and got thrown out…

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    • Matt says:

      The problem with that call is that the pitch before was a strike and Rolen should have been called out. Kershaw threw fastballs on both 2-2 and 3-2. The 2-2 pitch was in the zone, and the 3-2 was about 3 inches below the 2-2 pitch but called a strike. The whole incident could have been avoided if the umpire called the 2-2 pitch correctly, but instead he looks like a fool for a ridiculous make-up call.

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    • Not David says:

      Imagine that, the video is unavailable.

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  2. Tom says:

    I do think Torreabla deserved a suspension for the way he acted. You can’t argue balls and strikes and then after the toss out he moved up so when Vanover did step forward he hit him, and then Yorvit went Milton Bradley on him. While I agree the umpires have to be more accountable this is not a good example of bad umpire behavior.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      I agree, I see nothing wrong with the actions of Vanover. He stepped closer in a very non-agressive way. You make it seem like he get into Torrealba face, but thats just not the case.

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    • Matt says:

      It seemed to me that the contact occurred when Torreabla moved forward as Vanover was making the motion ejecting Torreabla from the game and as Vanover was turning back around contact was made. And I agree, Vanover act initially of stepping closer was done in a very non-agressive way. Moral of the story is DON’T ARGUE BALLS AND STRIKES.

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    • Lucas says:

      Absolutely. Calling this article “bad umpire behavior” is absurd. The bad behavior is all on Torrealba. If this and the Joyce call are supposed to support your theory that the umpires are all attention whores, consider me 1000% unconvinced.

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  3. CSJ says:

    The best part about all of this is that Torrealba was extremely wrong. He flat out got fooled on a slider that dropped into the zone. Vanover was a little inconsistent on the outside of the plate for RHH all game, but his up and in zone was perfect. (All info from Brooks Baseball)

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  4. RJ says:

    While Joyce’s call was obviously wrong, it feels a bit unfair to lump his mistake in with that of the others. After all, umps do miss calls at 1B from time to time. Joyce’s crime was more of timing – had it happened in almost any other game at any other time, it would have been quickly forgotten. To me, the fact that he actually admitted that he screwed up, and apologised quickly, also puts his call in a different category.

    With that being said, I completely agree that the umpiring seems to have been worse than usual this year, and that too many umps seem to be interested in ramping up the confrontation level as much as possible.

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    • Bronnt says:

      Joyce is still considered among the best umpires in the league. Every now and again, I want umpires to admit their mistakes so that fans can have a little bit of closure. It’s not like they aren’t already being monitored and graded, so how can admitting your own errors hurt you?

      I’ll always compare Jim Joyce’s “I was wrong, and I feel horrible” mea culpa to guys like Eric Gregg, following the 1997 NLCS “They should know my strike zone by now.” Meaning, Gregg didn’t care if he was accurate, he just gets to be right.

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    • Newcomer says:

      Indeed, Joyce was voted the best umpire by that very same poll. It was a high profile missed call, which highlights that umpires make mistakes, but it seems no one has anything against Joyce for making the mistake.

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      • Bronnt says:

        If he had refused to answer questions about it or failed to admit his mistake, there would be a great deal more venom directed at him. As it is, he’s actually gained some respect from fans for admitting that he messed up and feels awful about it. I would love to think that it would set an example for Bill Hohn, Joe West, or Doug Eddings, but I’m extremely doubtful it makes any difference.

        Of course, it helps that Galarraga isn’t bitter about it and has essentially led a public relations campaign on Joyce’s behalf.

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  5. Random Guy says:

    After watching the video, I have to disagree with the premise here. The pitch was a nice-looking breaking ball that fooled Torrealba completely and was in the zone. Torrealba might have tried to induce a call by flinching as if it were inside, and Vanover didn’t bite. I’ll defer to others about the consistency of the zone during the game, not having watched it; but all things being equal, that’s a strike.

    And though Vanover may have taken a step towards Torrelba, it was not an act of physical aggression. Torrealba got in Vanover’s face, got too close and now has to face the consequences.

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  6. JR! says:

    It’s quite a stretch to call that a considerable escalation by the umpire. Tossing Torrealba there was totally defensible.

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  7. Matt says:

    This is a pretty bad example and excuse for writing this article. The ump got the call right, Yorvit just missed it because he was too busy ducking out of the way. The ump takes a slight, half step in when he takes off his mask, BEFORE ejecting Torrealba, then Torrealba bumps his helmet into the ump when he aggressively moves in AFTER being tossed. The whole time the umps is back peddling while Torrealba continues to try to eat his face.

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  8. shin says:

    This was a terrible example to use, the replays showed it was a strike. Rolen’s ejection, on the other hand, was nowhere close to to being a strike.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=9077729

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    • Llewdor says:

      The Rolen call is among the worst strike calls I have seen. I’ve comlained before when especially tall players get called strikes on pitches that would only be strikes on a normal-sized batter, but that Rolen pitch was low to Eddie Gaedel. That pitch would have bounced before it got to the ump.

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  9. Franco says:

    I don’t think either guy was really that bad. But do we have to be so anal about no touching umps suspension when the guy’s helmet bumps the ump’s hat?

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    • Matt K says:

      agreed. i suppose you don’t want to create any grey zone so that it leads to Jose Offerman, but still, bill of caps to bill of caps seem like technicalities….

      And yeah, that Rolen call is horrible… especially cuz he’s on my fantasy team =P

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    • spindoctor says:

      We all get on the umps when the blow calls (myself included) but the players need to have some class to be held to account. Yorvit acted like a child in this instance, and he got tossed. He then went irate — he has no need to get into the umps face, within inches, to state his case. It is theatrics, and the umps aren’t the only ones who can pull them off.

      Yorvit deserved to be tossed and deserved to be suspended.

      Rolen, while the call was awful, also deserved to be tossed for arguing — you don’t argue balls and strikes. The reason for the tossing has to do with the language these guys use, the tone and level of their voice and the body language. You see guys who take a different approach disagree with the ump but head back to the dugout and join their team — there are better ways to handle these issues on the field, at the end of the day, the players make a choice when the scream and yell at the umps who have the power to eject them.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      There needs to be a line, and frankly considering the physical deference between players and umps, that line needs to be in the umps favor.

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  10. Bill@TDS says:

    I wish I believed replay was inevitable. Not so long as Bud can say things like “you know, most baseball people don’t WANT replay” and we (and actual, real baseball people) can’t do anything about it except yell and scream and bang our heads against the wall.

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  11. Josh says:

    That Rolen call was just insanity, that ball almost bounced after it went over the plate, at the very least 6 inches down below the zone. Just a terrible and stupid call and that ump sits there arguing like he knew it was a strike. Umpires are just jokes, hell give me ROBOTS.

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  12. Bronnt says:

    What was surprising was that Bill Hohn wasn’t considered among the worst MLB umpires.

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  13. rick11p says:

    McClelland belongs in that group. His strike is non-existent and very much encourages the kind of stand around hitting that leads to 4 hour games. He also brings in the over 60% for those so inclined

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  14. Matt K says:

    oh, and the argument about making games longer and challenge flags delaying games… that’s just silly. one challenge a game per manager. 5th ump in the review booth with walkie talkies. if the call takes more than 30 seconds to make, the call stands (ie, too close to call, so no irrefutable evidence).

    that is NOT going to slow down the game. It WILL eliminate the enjoyment of watching coaches kicking dirt at umpires and pulling baseball bags in frustration… no more of those blooper reels…..

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    • Not David says:

      I think you underestimate the ability of managers to throw a tantrum, regardless of replay.

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      • spindoctor says:

        The tantrums are already in the game without replay. If they remained with replay in the game, so be it. The games wouldn’t take longer.

        Bud is a hypocrite. He already allows replay on HR balls (fair/foul). No reason they can’t expand on that into other situations. The umps still have a job to do, and not everything needs to be reviewed. But there are definitely times when review is necessary,and the fact that in this generation it isn’t more widely used is a travesty.

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    • Rich says:

      Why the heck do we need challenge flags? Make all challenges booth initiated.

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  15. Kristina says:

    That wasn’t a good example to use for this article. Yorvit was fooled, the ball was a strike and Yorvit got in his face pretty bad, the ejection was warranted. I remember back in May when Bruce Bochy got ejected from the dugout: http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=8208717

    It was pretty bad and Wegner was just being really horrible. I think in that same game he got in Uribe’s face after Uribe struck out telling him stuff like you just swung at two pitches in the dirt and just went over the line.

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  16. scatterbrian says:

    Alex, I have to disagree with your assessment here. Vanover stepped toward Torrealba, but not in the way you imply. Putting “toward” in italics adds emphasis for effect, but if anything Vanover stepped closer to Torrealba to hear him over the crowd noise. At best he leaned in. There was nothing malicious about it, nothing confrontational. And while some umpires have been overzealous in these confrontations, Vanover was pretty calm throughout. Even his tossing motion was nonchalant.

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  17. jirish says:

    I love Scott Rolen, but he clearly said the eff word there….that will always get you tossed.

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    • Llewdor says:

      He had cause to curse out the ump, though. That call was appalling.

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    • Bronnt says:

      Eric Hinske drops F-Bombs all the time. Of course, they’re usually after he pops up, but he gets away with it.

      It was quite hilarious when they were playing in Florida, and there’s absolutely ZERO ambient noise in the stadium, so the game’s audio feed caught the entire verbal rant after he popped up with two men on. He’s got a bit of a potty mouth.

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    • scatterbrian says:

      No, nott always. It depends on the use of the F-word, specifically if it’s directed at an umpire. You can say “I was f—ing safe” you will not get tossed, but if you say “I was safe you f—ing idiot” you’re taking a shower.

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  18. Nate is not nice says:

    In Zambrano’s infamous ejection last season, it was clearly the ump who stepped into him and initiated contact. Then in one of the greatest moments in umpiring history, Zambrano returned the favor and ejected the ump.

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  19. Cidron says:

    from the article – So it makes sense that umpires feel like they’re under attack. They are.

    Now, If I feel I am under attack at my workplace, on the basis of quality of work.. Guess what I am gonna do? I am going to take steps to improve my quality of work. Duh.

    Umpires need to do the same. It would help if they were accountable to someone in-game. No, they are the egotistical, megalomaniacal, attention seeking people that know that they arent the spotlight unless they do something so wrong/flawed that they become it.

    ok, I may be overstating that somewhat. … or am I? Anyways. They need to back off the defensive posture that they have taken (while understandable, a siege mentality wont work). They need to make adjustments both on the PR side as well as the quality/consistency side (even from umpire to umpire strikezones).

    The rulebook has the strikezone based on the BATTER and the PLATE. This zone shouldnt change from umpire to umpire, yet it does. Why do 13 umpires call it a strike, and 13 call it a ball, leaving the other 4 or so (given a single game day) call it one way, then the next in a given at bat or game.

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  20. MarkInDallas says:

    I fail to see how replay will lengthen the game anymore than drawn out arguments where the manager rushes on the field and jaws with the ump for 5 minutes. That argument against replay in MLB is just baseless.

    I am waiting for the day that the umpire has an earpiece that beeps for a strike. That day cannot get here soon enough.

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  21. free wifi says:

    when i know this, i just want to curse.

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  22. chongo says:

    “After all, umps do miss calls at 1B from time to time. Joyce’s crime was more of timing”

    So true. It wouldn’t take the game any longer to use replay than TV announcers do with replay now. We don’t HAVE to put up with missed calls every game.

    This is how it must happen- some tech whizzes design the solutions- touch sensored foul lines, chip in the balls, bases and gloves; get it established in a minor league, then play a season. The media and fans will do the rest when they see the results. It will be an avalanche in its favor- the only thing holding it back is the umpire’s union.

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  23. Felonius_Monk says:

    Ass though he clearly is, I’m pretty sure I recall seeing a study that suggested that Angel Hernandez had one of the most accurate strike zones in MLB. Where do you get your information that he’s “inconcsistent”?

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    • Alex Remington says:

      I’ve never seen that study. The last game that he called that I watched, he was all over the place.

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  24. De-fender says:

    I’m going to agree with most commenters and place 99% of the blame for Torrealba’s suspension on Torrealba himself. There’s no reason to get that close to the ump, especially when you’re wrong about what you’re arguing.

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  25. CircleChange11 says:

    [1] That was a strike. It wasn’t high. It was on the corner. Great frame job by the catcher. Makes me wonder if there were not previous “umpire-catcher discussions” going on throughout the game. Certainly, fair or not, catchers expect a little “umpire love” because of the relationship they have. That last sentence may read a little, uh, funny … but you all know what I mean.

    [2] Yorvit made contact with the ump and followed it with the old “steppin to him” posture as he actually “walked the ump backward”. Had the ump stopped backpedalling, Yorvit would have made chest-to-chest contact. There is arguing a call and then there is completely showing an umpire up and displaying intimidating and aggressive posturing.

    [3] Rolen should be pissed, that was horrible. As I used to yell from the dugout in college “Cut Four”. Damn, get a relay man in there.

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