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Many longtime baseball fans would see the headline above and say, “Don’t we wish?” It’s an honest question for new baseball fans: Do MLB umpires get fined for bad calls? It’s rather timely, too, as it seemed during the 2021 season MLB umpires were under assault.
The answer is, Major League Baseball umpires do not get fined for bad calls ~ to the best of our knowledge. If umpires are fined, it is not announced publicly. However, it is possible they could be fined privately behind closed doors.
That does not mean MLB officials do not take action against its professional umpires for questionable actions on the field. We’ll explore that below.
Before getting into it, though, know that MLB umpires are treated differently than game officials of other major sports. Umpires at the top level of baseball have 2 advantages over the other major sports:
- They have been around a lot longer than other referees; and
- MLB umpires belong to a relatively powerful union.
The first umpire came with the very first game of Major League Baseball. On April 22, 1876 ~ just a few years after the Civil War ended ~ William McLean of Philadelphia worked the first game in National League History, between Boston and Philadelphia.
Ever since that date there have been disputed umpire calls and controversial baseball rules interpretations.
While MLB umpires are not fined, for a long time they had the power to dole out fines to players for “illegal acts.” That happened from 1879 to 1950, when the levying of player fines was finally shifted to the league presidents.
Early MLB umpires were semi-professional, untrained, and often despised by players, coaches and fans alike, who took turns dishing out abuse on the officials. Eventually, into the 20th century with expansion of the MLB to include the American League, umps gained more respect.
Still, many of their calls or decisions remain memorable to this day. Among the most notable:
- Merkle’s Boner. Late in the 1908 pennant race between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs, young Fred Merckle was a runner on first base when a base hit knocked in a runner ahead of him for the winning run to end the game. Seeing no chance that the lead runner would be thrown out, Merkel stopped running and joined his teammates and fans in celebration of an important win.
Days later the teams ended the season tied for first place ~ and the tie-game make-up would decide the pennant. The Cubs won that final game (and then won the World Series).
- Frank Chance is remembered not only for being the first baseman at the end of a famous double-play combo. In the 1910 World Series, he became the first person ever ejected from a World Series game. (Chance protested a home run call).
- As technology made for slower and more detailed replays of calls to show millions of viewers seconds later, umpiring calls made big headlines. The biggest of the 1980s had to be a safe call at first base during late innings of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. If the umpire called that pitcher Todd Worrell touched first base after catching a toss, the Cards win the series 4 games to 2. Instead, Kansas City rallied to win that game, and then took Game 7 in a commanding 11-0 fashion.
- Armando Gallaraga’s near-perfect game in June 2010. With only a single out to complete a rare perfect game, Gallaraga covered first on a grounder to first, and appeared to catch the toss and step on the bag for the final out. Unfortunately the umpire did not see it that way and declared the runner safe, ruining the perfect game (and no-hitter). The pitcher went on to win the game 3-0.
Umpires are human, and as such are prone to make errors in terms of decisions based on what they think they see, or in making important split-second decisions in front of thousands of people. So it is debatable that fining umpires will help eliminate bad calls.
It’s not necessarily asking if umpires should be fined. The main question should be, if so, do MLB officials make it public? They do so when players are fined, and also periodically make punishment decisions on umpires public.
A bigger question is in deciding how. A huge problem here is the dozens, if not hundreds, of potential blown calls behind the plate. It is common knowledge today that MLB umpires call the strike zone differently, based on their interpretation of the zone, or through personal experience.
The result is MLB umpires being known as “high strike” umps, or officials who are lenient on pitches “on the black” ~ the black rubber surrounding home plates but not officially part of the plate in terms of game play.
Many people say the strike zone as written in the rules should be a rectangular standing up vertically. However, nowadays the strike zone is often considered to be lying on its side ~ meaning hardly any high strikes called, and a lot more questionable pitches barely off the plate on either side.
With close-up video examination, there would be too many blown calls to think about. It would be massively time-consuming, and probably impossible to determine which calls to fine for, and for how much.
The introduction of using video replays to challenge calls out on the field, along with continued displeasure with inconsistent strike zones, together fan the flames of the argument for letting technology call balls, strikes, and outs.
Some long-standing baseball fans are demanding balls and strikes be called perfectly according to MLB’s most current rules. While that very well might be possible, using some type of computerized system or even engaging lasers or robots. But technology can hardly help umpire calls out on the field.
We could see the bases being wired somehow to make calls on force outs on the bases. That’s basically who stepped on the base first. But calling tag-outs, and fly-ball catches, is a different matter entirely. It’s probably impossible for a computer or robot to call those types of plays.
Other veteran fans ignore calls for e-umpiring, stating umpires get almost all calls correct, and the debate is focused on rare instances. There also is significant support for tradition ~ that human umpires have grown with the game since the mid-19th century.
And umpires have always blown a call or 2 since then. Yet, baseball has grown in popularity beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Why fix something that isn’t, all things considered, broke?
Regardless of pros and cons, it is very doubtful that human umpires will be replaced by robots. Here’s why.
Starting in 1970, umpires have collectively teamed up in the MLBUA, and worked under a contract between the league and union. The umpires strike of 1979, where non-union replacement umpires were not popular at all, solidified the union’s position.
That reason alone is why you’ll be seeing human umpires call MLB games for the foreseeable future ~ maybe forever. It’s also a big reason why they are treated differently than referees in other major sports.
Major league baseball umpires can be punished by the league by taking away things, not “giving” them fines. That is, umpires known to perform poorly can be ignored in the assignment to lucrative all star or postseason games. They also might find themselves assigned to less-desirable umpiring teams or series of games.
Umpires also have been suspended for a game or a few games for what was deemed bad behavior, such as publicly singling out a player who complains too much, or making decisions without consideration for game rules. But they are not monetarily fined.