You won’t have Balkin’ Bob Davidson to kick around in 2017. The veteran umpire was one of four major league officials hanging it up after last season, a list that includes three crew chiefs: John Hirschbeck, Jim Joyce, and Tim Welke.
Hirschbeck and Welke are part of the only two brother umpiring tandems in history. Mark Hirschbeck was an MLB Umpire from 1988-2003, and Bill Welke is an active umpire with more than 17 years of experience.
Say what you like about Davidson, but his 28-year-career was littered with colorful escapades. Said to have had a career ejection rate that was double the norm, Davidson even ejected a fan last season for heckling him. Balding and often sweaty and disheveled on the field, Davidson sometimes looked more like a man suited to yelling, “Get off my lawn!” than calling balls and strikes.
The four retirees make room for four new full-time MLB umpires, each of whom have paid their dues in the minor leagues and with substantial, though occasional, appearances at the big league level: Adam Hamari (age 33), Pat Hoberg (30), Gabe Morales (32) and Carlos Torres (38).
Working your way up to full-time big league status is no small thing. Full-time slots are hard to come by and the competition for them is fierce. Umpire Harami, for example, has waited 10 years in the minors while making a staggering 485 appearances as a call-up official at the MLB level.
For a sense of what an umpire’s life is like, I recommend As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires. It’s written by New York Times reporter Bruce Weber, who went through the full training regimen and worked some minor league games himself. The book is a fascinating account of what can be a lonely, hard life without much compensation unless you can make it to The Show. The book is also available through iTunes.
The three retired crew chiefs also means promotions for three veteran umpires to crew chief status: Paul Emmel (17.5 years of MLB service), Mike Everitt (18 years) and Sam Holbrook (16.5 years).
Now, onto some stories of particular interest to Red Sox fans:
- The annual spring exhibition game between the Sox and Northeastern Huskies is in the books with Boston winning 9-6. Six of the Sox runs came on two three-run home runs, one by newcomer Mitch Moreland and the other by key prospect Sam Travis. The first official game of the Sox’ Grapefruit League schedule is Friday against the Mets. Henry Owens will start for the Sox, the game will be on WEEI radio.
- For the first time in 17 season, one-time Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy is home in Alabama right now, not at spring training. Peavy has been going through a tough time. His ERA reached a single-season career-high of 5.54 in 2016 over 31 appearances. Beyond that, though, Peavy was one of 45 investors (including other pro athletes) unwittingly caught up in an investment scam, a Ponzi scheme that he says cost him millions of dollars. Perhaps worst of all, Katie, his wife of 15 years, filed for divorce last October. Peavy says his full-time attention is now focused on his four sons, aged 2½ to 15. Peavy is open about his struggles and his hope to get back to the game soon. “It’s like I tell people, ‘I don’t play baseball. I’m a baseball player.’ It’s who I am,” he tells Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. Definitely worth a read.
- What was the worst part, the lowest moment last season for Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval? “Everything,” he says. “Every moment.”
- The Yankees aren’t the team they used to be. Some familiar faces, like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann, are gone from this year’s lineup. One face that hopes to be around for a while, though, is the manager, Joe Girardi, 52, who is entering his final contract year in 2017, his 10th year overall as the Yankees’ skipper. New York’s general manager, Brian Cashman, is also in the final year of his current deal.
- In a separate article, Manager Girardi offers up some innovative thoughts to speed the game. Girardi says communications devices between the dugout and players would reduce reliance on signs relayed from manager to coach to catcher. “I think you could speed the game up a lot that way,” Girardi tells the New York Post. “The thing about signs is that signs take time and it slows [the game] down,” Girardi said.
- It’s not much, but MLB and the Players’ Union agreed that intentional walks won’t require four pitches any more. Instead, in the name of a faster game, the bench can just signal for an IBB to the home plate umpire. The change is official for the 2017 season. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred considers pace of play initiatives critical, but other proposed speed-ups were rejected by the union. Realistically, eliminating the pitches associated with an intentional walk seems a ridiculously small step. There were, after all, 932 free passes doled out in 2016, about one every 2.6 games, which hardly seems much of a time saver. Red Sox pitchers issued 16 IBB in 2016, the fourth fewest in baseball. The last quaint four-pitch IBB in Boston history belongs to Brad Ziegler on September 23 and issued to the Rays Corey Dickerson.
- Count Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin among those who don’t think baseball needs speeding up. Talking to reporters about the change in intentional walks Martin sarcastically pondered changes after home runs, “When a guy hits a home run, to speed up the game should he just walk to the dugout?” Martin asked. “At what point do we just keep the game, the game?”