By refusing to shake Oli Marmol’s hand before Saturday’s exhibition-season opener, umpire C.B. Bucknor put MLB to the test. Last August at a game in Arizona, Bucknor and the Cardinals manager got into a heated confrontation about the umpire’s typically incoherent strike zone. Marmol was ejected, and that wasn’t the problem. It’s against the rules to argue balls and strikes – even if the home-plate umpire lacks the inherent ability or to tell the difference.
The problem is Bucknor’s memory and his refusal to put the episode in the past. Umpires and managers get into arguments. These beefs can get nasty. In the moment, with tempers, blood pressure and profanity rising, the dialogue can turn personal. In the aftermath both sides are expected to turn the page as if it never happened.
Marmol did his part by extending his right hand as a show of sportsmanship and respect. The umpire shunned Marmol in a blow-off that his fellow umpires disapproved of. In disrespecting Marmol with his diaper-baby fit, Bucknor disrespected his profession.
“It just shows his lack of class as a man,” Marmol told reporters in Jupiter on Saturday. “That’s the bottom line.”
Monday, Bucknor got another chance to show some decency and passed the test this time, shaking Marmol’s hand before the game against the Mets.
Give this man the Nobel Peace Prize!
Someone will have to convince me that Bucknor went with the handshake on his own, with no nudging, metaphorical arm-twisting or a directive from MLB headquarters. I’m still not sure if he should be allowed to work Cardinals games. And if Bucknor does work Cardinals games, he should be closely monitored by MLB. (How silly of me to suggest that.)
If Bucknor was sincere, and not following orders, the handshake was nice. Hopefully the umpire and Marmol will be respectful to each other from now on, and that was Marmol’s motivation when he offered his handshake on Saturday. It’s up to Bucknor to do his part, because an umpire has the power to do whatever he wants, even if it means coming down hard on one team because he doesn’t like the manager.
Bucknor doesn’t have to respect Marmol – and vice versa – and that’s OK as long as the umpire plays it straight by putting personal feelings aside. Can Bucknor do that? We’ll see.
Let’s not forget about the most important aspect of this affair: Bucknor is a terrible umpire, and MLB keeps him in place. Saturday’s childishness simply reinforced the point. This man shouldn’t be umpiring major-league games. His ineptitude is well below umpiring standards. His temperament is unacceptable.
Instead of holding him accountable, MLB continues to reward Bucknor with prominent assignments. Bucknor was a member of the umpiring crew for the 2005 and 2021 All-Star Games. He has worked five division postseason series since 2007. In any profession that imposes reasonable standards, Bucknor would have been cut from the umpiring squad years ago. But MLB enables him, and basically grants him permission to embarrass himself, his profession and the sport.
The players and managers deserve better. And Bucknor’s colleagues deserve better too. I’ve known a lot of umpires through the years, and these guys are determined to do the best that they can and want to earn respect. And they’re stuck with this guy? When Bucknor screws up, then the public starts squawking about how bad all umpires are. It’s guilt by association, and that’s unfair to the honest, hard-working umpires.
I’m not convinced that Monday’s do-over handshake will change anything. And When an umpire shows – for all to see on Saturday – that he’s still full of resentment over a past confrontation, then you know it’s personal with him. And when the carryover hostility is personal with a manager, the umpire has damaged his credibility and can’t be entrusted to do an objective job in games involving the Cardinals.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that, but I think it’s a mistake to consider this chapter closed, and that Bucknor will be fair to Marmol’s team. All it takes is one umpire misjudgment (or sneaky act) to impact the outcome of a game.
I’m not trying to be a wise guy when I say this: if Bucknor wants to stick it to Marmol, he has cover … wait, he has cover? Yes indeed. Bucknor is so bad, we’ll never know if one of his mistakes was actually an attempt to punish Marmol. When an umpire misses so many ball-strike calls, how can we possibly know if any screw-ups were done on purpose – or just part of a typical day of work for the bumbling Bucknor?
Here’s a note from Scott Rogust of FanSided: “Bucknor is one of the more controversial umpires in terms of his game-calling abilities. Last season, he had a 92.0 accuracy percentage and an average consistency percentage of 92.1, both of which are ranked the fifth-worst among all umpires, per UmpScoreCards.com. In terms of accuracy above expected, which is the difference between actual accuracy and expected accuracy, Bucknor has the second-worst rating at -1.66 percent.”
Bucknor has been voted the worst umpire in the majors on at least three occasions, most notably in 2010 when ESPN conducted an anonymous survey of 100 MLB players. Back then, 42% named Bucknor on their ballots, the highest of any ump in MLB. He was also the worst-rated umpire in both the American and National League, so you’d think that MLB would take the hint and replace Bucknor with a more proficient umpire – or, at minimum, constantly put pressure on him and insist that he raise the quality of his job performance. But in reality Bucknor has no reason to do better.
That’s because MLB will still carry Bucknor, look the other way, and pay him very well.
We can shake hands and agree on that.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.