Take a look at the box score from Sunday night’s game between the Brewers and Phillies, and you might assume that the big storyline of the contest was the performances of the two starting pitchers. Brewers starter Eric Lauer led his team to a 1-0 victory by striking out 13 batters in six innings, and on the other side was Phillies starter Aaron Nola, who tormented hitters with his knuckle curve for seven innings, striking out nine and surrendering just one hit. What a game from both those guys! Unfortunately for them, they were not the stars of the show. That honor belonged to home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez.
Now that Joe West is no longer presiding over MLB games like an ill-tempered grandpa, Hernandez stands alone as the ump most likely to hijack a game. This is because he is extremely bad at his job, especially when it comes to calling balls and strikes, and always seems to be particularly bad when he’s behind the plate for a nationally televised game. Hernandez was in rare form last night—according to @UmpireAuditor, he missed 19 calls and rang up six batters on third strikes that were outside the zone.
To watch these calls happen over the course of the game was to see hitters on both teams gradually pushed to their breaking point. The early part of the contest brought a lot of disbelieving looks—Andrew McCutchen, after being rung up in the third inning, made a face like his flight had just been canceled —but when the stakes got higher in the later innings, rage took over. In the ninth, after being called out looking on a fastball outside the zone, Kyle Schwarber blew a gasket on behalf of both teams.
Hernandez should obviously not have his job, or at least be barred from working behind the plate, but there’s no reason to think that MLB is going to do anything about this. And so I would like to offer an imperfect solution to the players and fans who will continue to be driven insane by this man until he eventually decides to retire: Start thinking of him as a natural phenomenon rather than a person.
If it’s a lack of fairness that makes Hernandez’s calls so hard to stomach, then it may be helpful to remember that MLB games are constantly influenced by arbitrary and objectively unfair forces. Is it fair when the league office juices and un-juices the ball between seasons? Is it fair when a double that would have been a homer in many other ballparks clangs off the Green Monster? Is it fair when pitchers have to navigate freezing temperatures in playoff games? Everyone’s life would probably be a lot easier and more peaceful if we just threw Hernandez onto a pile with all of these other external forces that routinely intervene and influence the outcome of a baseball game. Let us try to agree that a game umpired by Angel Hernandez is not one undone by an incompetent fool, but one afflicted by a natural disaster beyond anyone’s control. There’s no sense screaming at the rain, right?