Monday, October 17, 2005

The Trouble with Umpires

I was going to take this spot today to write about my weekend trip with the family down to southern Illinois for a wedding, but another subject arose that has stuck itself in my craw and I HAVE to rant about it, lest my head explode.

Quick show of hands - who saw game 4 of the NLCS Sunday? If you did, you saw the most repulsive, mistake-laden act of umpiring since…well, since game 2 of this year’s ALCS. (You listening Mr Selig? Mistakes are being made and you HAVE to fix them)

My beloved Cardinals are not new to being hosed by umpires (you can check out this link for a further explanation on that. hint: Don Denkinger is the name)

But my beloved Redbirds got screwed with their pants on AGAIN by a mask-wearing ignoramus as NL “umpire” Phil Cuzzi decided to get his turn of the spotlight during Sunday’s game in Houston and made himself the focal point of the game instead of the Cardinals or Astros.

First, he ejected Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa for arguing an indecipherable and incomprehensible strike zone that seemed to be moving in every other direction with every new pitch (a ‘floating’ strike zone was how it was described by many columnists..I just call it bvllsh**)

Then he threw outfielder Jim Edmonds out too, after a pitch that was so far out of the strike zone that even my 3-year old twins knew it wasn’t a strike. The Fox announcers (who have been kissing the Astros butts this whole series by the way) even stated that an ump does not throw people out of a playoff game for only arguing. (Here’s an update and a candidate for the ‘Duh” of the Week: Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, told that the pitch to Edmonds might have been out of the strike zone.)

But this schmuck did just that. Had this moron worked the game blindfolded, it would have made NO difference on his ball-strike calling as he was also hopeless and arrogant, which are traits everyone wants in all umpires, right?

The next question then is; who the hell is Phil Cuzzi anyway? Well, with the help of my friends at Google as well as St Louis Post Dispatch online columnist Jeff Gordon, I learned a little more about the putz behind the mask and found some clues as to why this man should not be umpiring a little league baseball game, let alone a MLB Playoff game:

He attended the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in 1982 and 1983, THEN the Joe Brinkman Umpire School in 1984. Not once after three years of umpire school did this idiot get offered a job. (That should be clue number 1)

Finally, after another trip to the Wendelstedt School, he was hired to work in the rookie-level New York-Penn League.

Cuzzi worked eight years in the minors before getting up to Class AAA level and reaching the major leagues for 95 games of fill-in work. In 1993 he was passed over for promotion as six other umpires got the call-up. After that season, Cuzzi was fired (clue number 2)

He then spent the next three years living with his mother and working odd jobs. (That’s nice and normal, isn’t it? Whatever else it is, it's also clue number 3)

While working at the Short Hills (N.J.) Hilton, he waited outside a hotel room so he could speak to National League president Leonard Coleman and beg him for another chance to be an umpire. He got it, albeit after heading BACK to umpire school and starting over at the Class A level AGAIN (clue 4).

He worked his way back up the ladder and reached the majors again in 1999, as a fill-in then getting hired as a replacement umpire when Major League Baseball accepted the resignation of 22 umpires during a rather ugly labor dispute of a few years before (clue 5)

I counted 4 clues that show this unpredictable and unreliable nimrod should never have been given the chance to umpire a playoff game – am I oversimplifying things too much??

So his umpiring “education” record looks sketchy, so let’s now take a look at the schmoe’s officiating, as painful as it may be.

In 2000, Cuzzi worked the plate in a controversial game between the Red Sox and Devil Rays that saw 8 D-Rays ejected; Gerald Williams was tossed for charging the mound and manager Larry Rothschild for arguing that (Red Sox pitcher) Pedro Martinez should have been tossed as well. D-Ray pitchers Dave Eiland, Cory Lidle and Tony Fiore were tossed for throwing at Red Sox batters. The two acting managers from the game, Bill Russell and Jose Cardenal, also got the boot, and Greg Vaughn was ejected for protesting a seemingly wide called third strike in the seventh, his third strikeout of the night.’ (Wow, much like Sunday’s game 4…hmmmm?)

(Want more examples of his thirst for the limelight and his ineptitude of officiating? Well, here ya go)

In 2003, Cuzzi incurred the wrath of the Red Sox (again) after ejecting pitcher Casey Fossum just 13 pitches into the game for hitting Raul Ibanez with NO WARNING to either bench being issued.

(Want more? Ok) Cuzzi had a couple of well-publicized run-ins with the Toronto Blue Jays in that same year. In June, the Jays complained about his suddenly massive strike zone, said then-Jays slugger Carlos Delgado, “There’s no need to ask because a major league umpire should not miss a call like that.”

Later, when Roy Halladay was gunning for his 23rd victory, Cuzzi ejected him for hitting Rocco Baldelli with a pitch. Even Baldelli said it was a bad call. The Blue Jays, complained but it fell on deaf ears.

Last year Cuzzi got into it with the Phillies over his strike zone in a game against the Orioles when he ejected back-up catcher Todd Pratt. (Pratt, it should be noted, was in the dugout when he got the boot; an amazing trick if I’ve ever seen one, it's like throwing your voice, but with more annoyance)

So you get the general idea. Here’s a man who had to maneuver his way to the big leagues (after failing at it many times before) before getting in through the back door ONLY because 22 other umps lost their jobs. And now he is umpiring the National League Championship Series when the rest of the world is watching.

Which is scarier? That Cuzzi is, in fact, officiating the NLCS, or the fact that he doesn’t mind making himself the focal point of his games when it should be the teams and the players that are the focal point?

This is another example of how Bud Selig (who – in being a former owner – has NO right to be commissioner, but that’s for another day) is slowly destroying the sport of baseball.

I miss A. Bartlett Giamatti and often find myself wondering if his son Paul ( ) would be as good a commissioner as he is an actor…