The CB Bucknor Experience

Everyone has bad days at work. You’ve had them. If you read my work, you sure as heck know I’ve had them. Even Mike Trout’s theoretically had one or two. Not everyone can be on top of his or her game at every second of every minute on the clock. It’s just a simple fact of life.

CB Bucknor seems to have these nights more often than most. Any cursory poll asking for the names of the worst umpires in the big leagues will yield Bucknor’s name as one of the most popular answers. Less cursory polls have produced a similar result. He has long been at the center of some of baseball’s more frustrating officiating experiences, whether it be with his work behind the plate or on the bases. It was the former that drew the ire of just about everyone in Cobb County last night, especially that of Jayson Werth.

Werth, at this stage of his career, has fully bought into the Danny Glover-in-LethalWeapon method of thinking. He’s too old for your crap, and he’s been here long enough to tell you why you’re wrong. It’s a pretty fun thing to behold, especially when he’s had it up to here with whatever injustice has been perpetrated that day. The crap, in Werth’s estimation, began with his fourth-inning plate appearance. Here’s a graph of the pitches from same. (Note: from catcher’s perspective.)

He struck out. BrooksBaseball and PitchInfo think the third pitch was a strike, and video from last night shows that it was borderline, but not an egregious call.

Strikes two and three, however, were bad. Very bad.

These were the most egregious calls (in terms of balls and strikes) on the night. There were too many borderline calls for comfort, but we can’t get into every one of them here. What we can get into, however, is how the game ended. Or, rather, how it didn’t end.

It’s the ninth inning. Shawn Kelley is on the mound following a sloppy outing from Blake Treinen. The bases are loaded, and Chase d’Arnaud is at the plate with two strikes. Kelley throws a looping breaking ball on the outer portion of the plate, d’Arnaud feebly swings, and that’s the ballgame. Right? You’d think that would be the case.

There’s so much to unpack here. First and foremost, what exactly is a foul ball?

The official rules of Major League Baseball define a foul ball thusly:

A FOUL BALL is a batted ball that settles on foul territory between home and first base, or between home and third base, or that bounds past first or third base on or over foul territory, or that first falls on foul territory beyond first or third base, or that, while on or over foul territory, touches the person of an umpire or player, or any object foreign to the natural ground. A foul fly shall be judged according to the relative position of the ball and the foul line, including the foul pole, and not as to whether the infielder is on foul or fair territory at the time he touches the ball.

As with a lot of the rules of baseball, there’s a fun little bit of grey area there, namely when it comes to foul balls around the plate. Yet the key phrase here is “batted ball” and, quite clearly, d’Arnaud did not apply bat to ball on what would have been Kelley’s final pitch of the evening. Perhaps Bucknor assumed that because Matt Wieters didn’t cleanly catch the ball that d’Arnaud must have gotten a piece of it. Perhaps the thump of the ball off of Wieters’ mitt was mistaken for the crack of a bat hitting a ball. Perhaps Bucknor is a thinker of a higher order, attempting to provide a commentary on life and on baseball. We have rules that define things for us, but really, at the end of the day, what is a foul ball? Does it really matter in the end, when the cold grip of death, at some point, comes for us all? Do squabbles over what is and is not foul matter at that point?

Regardless, the-foul-that-wasn’t wasn’t clarified to be a “foul” until after the grounds crew had already begun their post-game duties and the handshake procession of players was already in progress. Rather fittingly, when everyone was ordered back to their places, Kelley threw d’Arnaud another breaking ball, and the Nationals won, again. Werth made sure to tell Bucknor exactly what he thought, and he told reporters too.

Maybe CB Bucknor really is too smart for the rest of us. Maybe he isn’t, and he really is just bad at his job. Maybe he had a bad night, a night that cast him in an especially negative light. We’ll probably never know what drives an umpire to do such things, whether it be truly insidious umpshow intentions, a momentary lapse of reason, or just plain incompetence. Regardless, we’ve already got a rather strong contender for our worst call of the year.

However, it’s only April 19th. We’ve got a lot of baseball left. A lot of those games will be called by Bucknor. It’s never a good idea to peak too early.

We hoped you liked reading The CB Bucknor Experience by Nicolas Stellini!

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Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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EonADS
Member
EonADS

Is it bad that I actually forgot how bad Bucknor is because I’m so used to Joe West screwing the Indians?

tornadothor
Member
tornadothor

Joe West screws everyone, everywhere, all the time. He even tossed a player in a spring training game.

Richie
Member
Richie

In ‘Ball Four’ Bouton wrote about players trying to get tossed from spring training games, so they could chill rather than play another of too many meaningless games. I’d be inclined to not blame Joe for tossing a guy in spring training.

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

To Red Sox fans Joe West is a hero. It was he who correctly reversed two crucial calls in the great Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. First on Jim Joyce’s blunder on Mark Bellhorn’s HR in the 4th, then on Randy Marsh’s missed call on the egregious Alex Rodriguez slap play. As the saying goes, “It all depends on where you sit”.

Richard Nixon
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Richard Nixon

Randy Marsh? Really?

jupiterslament
Member
jupiterslament

When told his call was incorrect, he reportedly responded “I’m not allowed to call what I want? I’m sorry, I thought this was America.”

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

If you are a Red Sox fan you know who made every call in the 2004 ALCS.

E L
Member
E L

Joe West isn’t bad in terms of making calls behind the plate accurately and consistently (or in the field, for that matter). His terribleness is that he likes being the ump-show and is incredibly thin-skinned about being questioned or reversed on the inevitable mistakes that crop up over the long season. It’s magnified by the fact that as the Grand Poohbah of the ump union, he has complete job security and is completely shielded from any consequences.

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

Most definitely on both counts. He is a showboater and a buffoon but there is a reason he appears in most of the post-seasons. He grades out very highly.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Surprised to not see Bob Davidson mentioned.

Da Bear
Member
Da Bear

Davidson at least had the sense to hang it up after last season.