Why ump Ángel Hernández was branded as baseball’s bumbling bogeyman (2024)

Before there was social media, there was Steve “Mongo” McMichael.

A man and a microphone.

On Aug. 7, 2001, Cubs third baseman Ron Coomer was controversially called out at the plate by umpire Ángel Hernández. Shortly thereafter, McMichael — the locally beloved Bears defensive tackle turned professional wrestler — sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the broadcast booth above Wrigley Field.

But first, McMichael held a microphone in one huge hand and a drink in the other, and addressed the frustrated fans.

“All right, Mongo’s home, Chicago!” bellowed the blustering Bear with long black hair tucked under his baseball cap. “And don’t worry, I’ll have some speaks” — not a typo — “with that home plate umpire after the game.”

McMichael capped the comment by blowing Hernández a sardonic kiss, then booed mockingly into the microphone and finally started to sing.

Of course, baseball fans have not stopped booing Hernández ever since.

That is, until the 62-year-old abruptly and immediately retired Monday, ending an MLB career that began way back in 1991. In between, he developed a reputation that transcended common criticism. Decades of bungled balls and strikes twisted an undeniably bad umpire into a pariah, a punching bag.


So, unsurprisingly, Monday’s news was met with widespread celebration, as social media resurfaced the many lowlights of a perpetually criticized career.

Like the time Hernández rang up Kyle Schwarber looking on a pitch that landed several inches outside, then ejected Schwarber after the Phillies DH spiked his bat and helmet in a righteous eruption; or the time Hernández called three consecutive outside strikes on the Rangers’ Wyatt Langford, with the finale wandering 6.78 inches wide; or the time Hernández — while working third base — called Phillies superstar Bryce Harper out on a checked swing, then tossed him after Harper beelined down the baseline.

“You’ll see,” Hernández appeared to repeat.

Upon replay, everyone did see … that Harper didn’t swing.

While serving as the first-base umpire in Game 3 of the ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in 2018, Hernández had four calls reviewed in the first four innings … and three were overturned.

A day later, Yankees starter CC Sabathia insisted the erratic umpire “shouldn’t be anywhere near a playoff game.”

Indeed, Hernández hasn’t worked a World Series game since 2005 and an LCS game since 2016. Which, along with the volumes of video evidence, supports a clear conclusion:

Ángel Hernández was a bad MLB umpire. No one is arguing otherwise.


But the response to his retirement seems disproportionately venomous.

After all, Hernández is not the first umpire to incorrectly call a Coomer out at home, nor to extend the strike zone by six inches on either side. Take the oft-repeated poem “Casey at the Bat,” which was written by Ernest Thayer and published in 1888:

“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;

And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

Likewise, a movie called “Kill The Umpire” was released by Columbia Pictures in 1950.

It was a comedy.

The tagline — “What a guy! What a lug! What a hero! What a bum!” — illustrates the tentative truce between fans and umpires that is always, inevitably, one call from curdling. That dynamic is an intrinsic part of America’s pastime. There’s an umpire shortage in youth leagues, in part, because the role attracts such ridicule. But why has Hernández morphed into something more, an oversized symbol of strike-calling incompetency?

Aside from the many aforementioned flubs, it’s tied to the mass distribution of two tools:

Microphones and microscopes.

In the social media era, there are a million “Mongo” McMichaels, each with an available microphone and an invitation to have some speaks. Missed calls are instantly analyzed, distributed and condemned. Social media devolves into an echo chamber of torches and parading pitchforks, all aimed at Frankenstein’s monster.


As for microscopes? It’s never been easier to accurately, and instantly, evaluate an umpire. The “K Zone” — originally implemented in 2002, a year after “Mongo” grabbed the mic — invites viewers to discern the difference between balls and strikes, down to the millimeter. And thus, a human decision in real time is afforded a microscopic margin for error.

Online accounts like “Umpire Auditor” and “Umpire Scorecard” have also arisen to parse an umpire’s performance. According to “Umpire Scorecard” — which is run by a statistician and a mechanical engineer, and utilizes advanced analytics to dole out daily grades — Hernández ranks 89th out of 115 umpires in accuracy above expected (-0.46), and 91st in overall accuracy (93.0) since the start of the 2020 season.

While Hernández has consistently, statistically, underperformed, his reputation as baseball’s bumbling bogeyman overshadows everything.

“I think he’s wrongly been the poster child to be a punching bag for officiating,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told The Athletic this week. “And I think sometimes that’s been unfair and over the top. The reality is, he’s spent a lot of time in this league and cared about his craft. I think it’s a little unfortunate what I think is over-the-top criticism of him, even going into retirement.”

This week, the over-the-top criticism cascaded like rolling credits, with The New York Post even publishing “The top-10 worst Angel Hernandez calls in MLB history.”

Ultimately, Hernández was a victim of timing, and the advent of technology — microscopes to highlight his (many) mistakes, and microphones to manically boo and build his loathsome legend. And though the arrival of an automated ball-strike system may soon relieve the umpire’s responsibilities, Hernández won’t be there to benefit.


Of course, none of this nixes his laughable lowlights, nor his misplaced you’ll see defiance. But the animus greeting Hernández’s retirement is excessive and unnecessary.

As beloved baseball journalist Peter Gammons posted on social media Tuesday: “An umpire’s life is exceptionally tough, from the 6 am flights to tv commentators [second] guessing every call. May Angel Hernandez spend a peaceful life, and never again get booed.”

Undoubtedly, the machine will find someone new to boo. The lugs and heroes and bums all change, but not the narrative.

Mike Vorel: mvorel@seattletimes.com; Mike Vorel is a sports columnist for The Seattle Times.

Why ump Ángel Hernández was branded as baseball’s bumbling bogeyman (2024)


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