Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Major League Baseball Umps in a Snit Over Background Checks

According to this AP story, the umpires are unhappy about the league conducting background checks.

"Umpires are livid that Major League Baseball has sent investigators to their hometowns, asking neighbors a series of questions that include whether the ump belongs to the Ku Klux Klan. "

"Baseball stepped up background checks last August, after it became public that the FBI was investigating NBA referee Tim Donaghy for betting on games. Donaghy pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce, and he awaits sentencing."

Some of the questions that neighbors are being asked:

Does he live within his means?
Does he beat his wife?
Does he throw wild parties?
Have you seen the police at his house?
Does he belong to groups such as the Ku Klux Klan?
Does he grow marijuana plants?

My take on this tempest in a teapot is that no major league umpire should be upset about these questions as long as the answer to all of them is "no".

If the answer is "yes", well then the umpire and the league might have a problem.

Sports officiating is a vocation where the standards of performance are pretty high. Let's face it, the standard is perfection. Coaches, players, spectators and media all expect umpires and referees to get every call right, and if they don't, they're suspected of incompetence.

Major league baseball has a vested interest in protecting the integrity of their product. Umpires have to be not only competent at a high level, but their personal lives have to be above reproach. I think the leagues have every right to know the answer to all of the above questions and many more. Above reproach doesn't mean that having to answer these questions is beneath their dignity.