- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Angel Hernandez, the veteran umpire who worked home plate for the game between the Yankees and the Red Sox on Tuesday night, is not known among players for having a warm and fuzzy personality. Marcus Thames raised his hand to ask for a timeout in his first at-bat of Tuesday's game and assumed he would get it -- but Hernandez ignored him. Thames quickly stepped back in the box and reset his feet, ready to hit.
But this was not a case of Hernandez being difficult.
This was a matter of Hernandez enforcing a dictum from the folks he works for. Major League Baseball would like to see the pace of games improved, and in particular, it would like to see fewer cases in which the plate umpire grants timeouts to hitters. Throughout the Yankees-Red Sox game, Hernandez uniformly did not honor timeout requests, other than in one situation with Derek Jeter, who asked for a timeout twice and backed away from home plate.
Some early thoughts on this:
Pushing the pace of play is always a great idea, in theory. Many hitters and pitchers have gotten into the habit of taking too much time between pitches. It's not a big deal when Thames calls timeout once in his first at-bat, but when you have many hitters stepping out of the batter's box constantly over the course of nine innings, this gives us some idea why a 2-1 game might take three hours and 10 minutes.
Look, as a baseball nerd, I like to watch the give and take between the pitchers and the catchers, the cat and mouse stuff between the hitters and the pitchers. But it's the type of stuff that drives casual fans crazy; quite simply, it's boring.
All of the umpires have to be invested in this in order for change to happen. Hernandez was diligent about this, nudging the game along, speaking to some players during the game about what he was trying to do. This was not the case with some other umpires when they worked home plate in the first couple of days. If the object is to change the players' habits, the effort should be conspicuous, out of necessity.
It can't be fun for the umpires, but hey, nobody else can make change happen. And this has to be a group effort among the umps, or else the mental scouting reports that players keep on umps will include some notation about whether they push the game along: "Angel Hernandez enforces the timeout rule .... but Umpire B does not."
It's fine if MLB wants to pick up the speed of games -- fans aren't as turned off by 2-1 games as they are by the 3-hour, 20-minute version -- but the league better be consistent. If umpires aren't addressing pace consistently, it'll just create problems.