Crummy umpire Ángel Hernández sued Major League Baseball back in 2017, alleging that the league had not selected him to work in a World Series over a period of seven years, nor promoted him to crew chief, due to discrimination based on race and national origin. Hernández’s position is that he was denied these opportunities by MLB because he is Cuban, and because Joe Torre, then MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, disliked him personally. Major League Baseball’s position, as outlined in a brief filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals, is that actually Hernández has been denied those opportunities because he sucks mondo ass at his job.
Hernández’s lawsuit was decided in MLB’s favor via a 2021 summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The judge, a man named J. Paul Oetken, agreed with MLB that Hernández had both failed to show “a statistically significant disparity between the promotion and selection rates of minority and non-minority umpires,” and that he failed to show that MLB “treated him less well than other umpires ‘at least in part for discriminatory reasons.'” The ruling says essentially that Hernández had not met the requirements for bringing the suit, without asking MLB to produce much by way of a counter-narrative to explain why Hernández had not been promoted or assigned to the World Series over such a long stretch of time.
There’s a way to look at this narrow-seeming ruling as gentle on both MLB and Hernández. Fans and players would tell you that Hernández is infuriatingly awful at his job, especially when calling balls and strikes, and most especially as players and managers grow impatient with his performance and tempers rise. But because he is still employed as an MLB umpire, it behooves MLB to remain more or less mum on the matter: They don’t promote him, they don’t put him in the highest profile spots, but they also don’t go around broadcasting their deep dissatisfaction with an active, veteran, full-time umpire. This arrangement, under different circumstances, might suit Hernández just fine: MLB’s general silence on the matter at least spares him the nightmare of being publicly humiliated by the people who sign his paychecks.
But in February of this year Hernández appealed that 2021 summary judgment, which kicked the case up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In response, Major League Baseball evidently made the decision that it would now be fine and appropriate to take a huge shit on their least popular active umpire. The brief filed Wednesday dumps out Hernández’s personnel file and makes an item-by-item case that he is a deeply shitty umpire who fucks up all the time and makes everyone crazy, which incidentally is precisely how anyone who has closely followed baseball over the past decade-plus would describe him. The brief pretty unambiguously outlines that MLB views Hernández as confrontational, stubborn, unaccountable, unprofessional, and in at least one case actively deceptive. It is a hell of a read, the kind of thing that will make you crave a cigarette after you’ve finished.
Under the header “Hernandez’s Deficient Performance In Areas Torre Considered Most Important For Permanent Crew Chiefs And World Series Assignments,” the brief gets into brutal details of some of Hernández’s most notable screw-ups, starting with his “lack of accountability and inability to move past his mistakes.” The brief specifically describes an incident in 2013, when Adam Rosales of the Oakland Athletics smoked a ball off the railing above the left field wall in Cleveland, which should’ve been ruled a home run. The play was initially ruled a double, but umpires were asked to review the play. Hernández, acting as interim crew chief, declined to overturn the call despite what seemed like pretty solid video evidence, and the game ended with a one-run Cleveland victory. But less important to Torre and MLB than the fuck-up was Hernández’s refusal over a period of years to accept accountability for the mistake or to simply let it go, such that it was showing up in his performance reviews in subsequent years:
In 2014, MLB told Hernandez that his desire for added responsibility “would only come to fruition with your ability to remain focused on the present and things that you can control,” and that “you need to continue to take steps forward in your communication and your accountability before this can happen …. [Y]ou need to be accountable to yourself and let things from the past go. You continue to harp on matters that happened many years ago; this behavior is not healthy and not what we expect from a crew chief or any umpire. You need to learn from the past and then move forward.”
The report goes on to note that Hernández was in fact on track to umpire the 2018 World Series until Game 3 of the ALCS, when three of his decisions were overturned via replay review in the first four innings of the game, understandably costing Hernández the confidence of his superiors.
The next subject header, “Hernández Was Unable To Successfully Handle Difficult On-Field Situations With A Calm And Professional Demeanor On A Consistent Basis,” delves into his habit of ejecting players and managers without warning, citing a number of specific instances. It also cites what MLB describes as his persistent failure “to communicate with other umpires on his crew, which has resulted in confusion on the field,” an issue that has apparently also worked its way onto Hernández’s year-end performance reviews. The following section, “Hernandez Struggled As An Interim Crew Chief In Multiple Seasons,” outlines how the umpire has squandered his many opportunities to audition for a permanent leadership role, including a time when he violated “provisions of the Basic Agreement and Umpire Manual” by asking Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds to autograph 11 baseballs following a 2012 no-hitter.
Possibly the funniest accusation in here is from an incident in 2019, when Hernández was once again serving as interim crew chief for a Red Sox-Rays game that would eventually be finished under protest after Hernández “misapplied a rule involving the effect of the substitution of players on the lineup.” The incident involved some confusing double-switches executed by Rays manager Kevin Cash; MLB ultimately determined that the applicable rule had been misapplied by the umpiring crew, but that the screwup did not adversely affect “the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.” But the brief also notes that Hernández’s supervisor “specifically reinforced” that rule with him prior to the series, in anticipation of just such an incident, and that Hernández still blew it.
Here’s where it gets hilarious: The brief says during a subsequent investigation of the incident that Torre caught Hernández “intentionally and deceptively” eavesdropping on a “confidential” phone conversation between MLB and another member of the umpire crew, “in order to hear what that umpire would say concerning the incident.” Naturally, MLB then confronted Hernández about this behavior, whereupon, in their retelling, Hernández “lied about this conduct.” The brief of course notes that Torre subsequently removed Hernández from future interim crew chief assignments for the remainder of that season.
On the one hand, it’s comforting to know, finally, that MLB sees what the rest of us see, which is that Hernández is uncommonly crappy at most facets of his job. On the other hand, it’s a little bit disheartening, as a baseball fan, to learn that an umpire can be an acknowledged bozo on the field and an unaccountable creep behind the scenes and the only thing MLB can do about it is stop him from rising to crew chief or working a World Series. If I may conjure a third hand, it’s at least a little bit inspiring to see that there still exists in this country a small corner where one can enjoy this type of job security. Who among us does not wish for labor protections strong enough to keep us in our jobs despite our employer compiling an extensive dossier cataloguing our many moronic blunders? Hernández owes whoever negotiated that Basic Agreement on behalf of the MLB Umpires Association a hug and a case of beer. MLB’s brief is embedded below, for those interested. It rules.