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New York Yankees, manager of Cincinnati Reds show respect to MLB umpire

Wittenmyer & Williams is a weekly point/counterpoint column from Enquirer Reds reporter Gordon Wittenmyer and sports columnist Jason Williams. This week they agree on something: stop the vicious attacks on referees.

Williams: Hey, I saw your column saying that baseball should scrap all plans for the automated ball and strike system. I guess now that Angel Hernandez has been bought out by the MLB and is officially retired, you’re right. Baseball doesn’t need it anymore.

Wittenmyer: Come on man. That’s a cheap shot. You’re better than that. Ripping Hernandez or any other referee is the lowest of the low hanging fruit.

Williams: I know, I was joking. This is one of the few things you and I agree on. That was mainly a reference to what has been all over social media since the news about Hernandez broke. It was disappointing to see so many former top players, and even people from our business, celebrating Hernandez’s retirement. Bush competition.

Wittenmyer: Lots of people I also respect in our company. Hernandez undoubtedly had his share of bad calls. And with all the modern, electronic ways we can measure it now, he finished near the bottom of the premier league referees. But the level of scrutiny and public attacks is overblown — and says more about the people taking lazy, cheap shots than it does about Hernandez.

Williams: I’m all for responsibility. Yes, it was probably time for Hernandez to move on. My problem is with the vicious attacks on social media from people who only know what they see on these analytics sites. Hernandez is an example of blaming referees and umpires when things don’t go your team’s way. I have always strongly believed that complaining about the referee is making excuses and scapegoating.

Wittenmyer: It’s not that the guy is trying to make bad decisions. See, even managers like New York’s Aaron Boone and the Reds’ David Bell spoke highly of Hernandez. That’s what people often overlook when they attack based on so-called reputation. Yes, Hernandez scored lower than many of his big league peers. Mostly he was vilified for the more obvious calls here and there. But within the game he was largely respected for his professionalism and liked personally.

Williams: You’ve covered baseball for almost 30 years. It’s interesting how famous Hernandez has become if you think referees should be seen and not heard. I wonder: has there been a more polarizing referee than Hernandez?

Wittenmyer: Yeah, Joe West, right? What we’re talking about reminds me of West’s public perception that this culture of social media poison has made him the villain of the game. But nothing is less true. He was a respected figure by all who knew him when he was a referee, a great storyteller, a good referee, a professional. At times he became a bigger part of a play or game than some people might have found acceptable. But he is Hall of Fame caliber.

Williams: Good example. And to be clear, I don’t think any of us would send Hernandez to Cooperstown. But that’s not the point. It’s about some of us who are knee-jerk critics who look in the mirror.

Wittenmyer: Precisely. And this is part of a larger cultural problem in sports that I know you feel strongly about.

Williams: I have been umpiring youth baseball games long before social media. To this day I remember having to kick a parent out of a game and off the property for abusive behavior towards me. This was a game played by 9 year olds. My kids play baseball now and I still see that kind of abuse. And every now and then we hear in the news about physical attacks on referees and officials. If a generation of sports fans grows up seeing referees as the problem, I wonder if that contributes to the cheap shots against a guy like Hernandez.

Wittenmyer: Yes, it’s that easy. Especially as a half-informed keyboard warrior piling on in a growing environment of polarization. Just in general. It’s funny because we have more information available than ever before. Seems like this should make us better than this.

Williams: But it’s clearly not. Social media is too often about tearing down someone or something. I’ve discovered that part of coaching youth baseball is teaching kids personal responsibility – for their commitment and teamwork, of course, but also not to blame the umpire. In fact, children should shake hands with the referee after a match, no matter what.

Wittenmyer: Maybe a few more people should shake Angel Hernandez’s hand and try to remember that he spent over 30 years in his profession in the big leagues. That’s worth at least a little more than a cheap shot.

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