As long as we're on the subject, why don't we talk a little more about the state of major league umpiring.
We've definitely seen some positive changes in recent years:
1. Thanks to the elimination of AL and NL umpiring crews and the introduction of QuesTec, we now have a more uniform strike zone.
2. Umpires are now far more willing to get together and discuss close plays than they were even five and 10 years ago.
3. Instant replay on potential home runs has worked out fine without excessively slowing down the game.
So, the system behind the umpiring has improved. As for the umpires themselves… probably not so much.
MLB has 68 full-time umpires at the moment. 61 of those men have been on the job for at least 10 years. 61! That's 90 percent. The Supreme Court has more turnover. Only three current major league umps have less than seven years of service time, and even that's a bit deceiving, since Ed Hickox was originally hired in 1999, only to lose his job as part of the mass resignation/negotiating ploy that year. He was rehired in 2007. If not for what happened in 1999, perhaps more than half of today's umpires would be 20-year veterans.
And why not? Experience overrides everything else when it comes to MLB umpiring. There are 17 crews working major league games. There are 16 major league umpires with at least 21 years in. 15 of those 16 umpires are crew chiefs. The only one who isn't, Jim Joyce, has exactly 21 years in. The other two crew chiefs have 19 and 15 years in. In every case, the crew chief is the most experienced member of the crew, putting the lie to the guidelines on the page I linked to earlier.
On or before January 15 of each year, the Office of the Commissioner shall appoint an umpire to act as the Crew Chief for each of the crews formed for the championship season. While the Office of the Commissioner may consider seniority along with other factors that it may deem appropriate when exercising its appointment discretion, seniority shall not control in the Office of the Commissioner's choice of Crew Chiefs.
Experience isn't necessarily a bad thing, but with age comes worse natural eyesight and poorer reflexes. Maybe I'm wrong, but I also don't believe MLB puts in any effort into keeping these guys in shape. It might just be my imagination, but it sure seems like umpires are in worse position than they used to be when it comes to making calls at home plate and second base. Because few of them can move quickly at all, they often get themselves blocked off by the fielder and unable to see the tag.
At the rate things are going, we could someday get to a day in which 90 percent of major league umpires are at least 50 years old. After all, they can't lose their jobs due to incompetence. That's the obvious problem. There are 120 umpires working in the minors on any given night. Most of them are worse than their major league counterparts, but some must have talent. If MLB scouted umpires and could call up and send down those who deserved it, we'd see a lot of progress. If the major league umpires actually had to worry about their jobs being on the line after a poor year, they'd certainly stay motivated. I know it's a pipe dream, but things will have to change someday.
As is, a man has little reason to pursue a career in umpiring. A woman would be crazy to do it, given MLB's track record. Minor league umpires do OK during the season, but they definitely need jobs the other six or seven months of the year. And while there will eventually come a day in which MLB will have to do better than hiring one new umpire every other year, it'd take a radical change to create a system in which everyone has a fair chance.