Judging the Royals

Umpire C.B. Bucknor had a rough game on Friday

The Royals’ Lorenzo Cain (right) celebrated as he scored on a solo home run, next to Los Angeles Angels catcher Martin Maldonado (left) and home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor during the third inning of Friday’s game in in Anaheim, Calif.
The Royals’ Lorenzo Cain (right) celebrated as he scored on a solo home run, next to Los Angeles Angels catcher Martin Maldonado (left) and home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor during the third inning of Friday’s game in in Anaheim, Calif. The Associated Press

On the second pitch of Friday night’s game between the Royals and Angels in Anaheim, Calif., home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor called a ball a strike. Umpires miss calls all the time, but they’re usually close calls.

This pitch missed the strike zone like Columbus missed China.

When an umpire is bad it throws the game into confusion; Bucknor called a pitch that missed the strike zone by about half a foot, so Royals leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield — and everyone else paying attention — knew they’d have to be aggressive with two strikes.

Or not.

In the eighth inning with the count 2-2, Angels pitcher Keynan Middleton threw a slider to the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain. After four consecutive fastballs, the slider at the knees locked Cain up and should have been a called strike three. But Bucknor missed the call, and two pitches later Cain hit his second home run of the night.

On the other hand, Bucknor missed a call on Cain in Cain’s first at-bat — he called a ball a strike — and Cain went on to strike out. So at least Bucknor was consistent: He was missing calls both ways and for both teams.

Look through the game and there are plenty of examples of missed pitches: Bucknor missed a call on Alex Gordon in the second inning, on Mike Moustakas in the fourth inning, on Jorge Bonifacio and Lornezo Cain in the fifth inning and on Ben Revere in the sixth inning. Bucknor might have missed more calls, but I got tired of looking.

We’re not talking borderline pitches here; we’re talking about pitches that completely missed the zone being called strikes, and pitches well within the zone being called balls.

Bucknor’s strike zone inconsistency — something he’s known for — was the reason Ian Kennedy had a few choice words for him as Kennedy left the field after the bottom of the sixth inning.

As one player asked me: Where’s the accountability?

If a player is bad enough, long enough, he’ll lose his job or get sent to the minors. If an umpire is bad, the players are expected to work around it.

More umpire-related information; guys on the corners need to be good conversationalists

Back when Clint Hurdle was a base coach for the Colorado Rockies, he talked about an upcoming series that he was dreading. Not because the other team was good; it was because the other team’s first baseman was a “stiff.”

A “stiff” is a guy who won’t talk, or when he does talk is boring, so that meant Clint would have to spend three days on his own. If the guy playing first base liked to gab and was funny, the three days would pass much more quickly.

It’s a long season and being around people who are interesting and/or funny helps pass the time. (So I’m guessing first basemen around the league look forward to playing Kansas City because they’ll get three or four days with Rusty Kuntz.)

And the same goes for umpires.

Smart first and third basemen chat up the first- and third-base umpires in an effort to build a relationship, a relationship that might come in handy when the first or third baseman is at the plate and the umpire is behind it.

Catchers get a great chance to develop beneficial relationships — they talk with the home-plate umpire all game long — middle infielders have less chance because the second-base umpire moves around and isn’t always close by, and outfielders get the short end of the stick.

Watch between innings and you might see an outfielder, going on or off the field, stop a moment to chat with an umpire. It’s their chance to develop one of those beneficial relationships.

We’ve all seen players laughing it up with umpires. Now you know why.

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