Angel Hernandez

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Angel Hernandez

Biographical Information[edit]

Angel Hernandez, who was born in Cuba, went into umpiring straight out of high school which he attended in Florida. He worked in the 1981-1983 Florida State League, 1984-1985 Carolina League, 1986-1987 Southern League and 1988-1992 American Association before making it to the majors full-time as a National League umpire in 1993; he had earlier worked some NL games in both 1991 and 1992. He worked the 1999 All-Star Game, 2002 World Series, 2005 World Series and 2009 All-Star Game as well as season openers in both 1999 and 2000. He retired during the 2024 season.

It is fair to say that Hernandez has been one of the most controversial umpires in the majors in recent years, with his name being at the center of a number of highly-publicized spats and conflicts, when most umpires want to shun the limelight as much as possible. Hernandez was at the center of a highly controversial call on May 8, 2013. With the Cleveland Indians leading the Oakland Athletics, 4-3, in the 9th inning, Adam Rosales hit a ball that hit the first row of seats beyond the outfield fence and bounced back on the field. Even after the use of video review, however, Hernandez called the ball a double and not a home run, and Rosales was left stranded on second base while Oakland lost the game a few moments later. A's manager Bob Melvin argued long and hard that the ball was a home run, but was ejected without having been able to convince Hernandez to reverse the call. What made the play especially controversial was that the video evidence did not support the ruling, and that Major League Baseball Vice-President Joe Torre admitted as much the following day, although he also stated that the call would be allowed to stand, as perfection was impossible to achieve for umpires.

On July 3, 2017, it was revealed that Hernandez had filed a suit against Major League Baseball before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arguing racial discrimination. His claim was that he did not receive the prestigious postseason umpiring assignments or the opportunity to become a crew chief he felt he deserved in spite of high marks on evaluations, because of MLB's alleged preference for non-ethnic umpires. He specifically pointed out the nomination of former manager Joe Torre as MLB's chief of discipline in 2011 as a turning point, alleging that the two had had a history of on-field disagreements that had tainted Torre's opinion of his work. Ironically, shortly after the lawsuit was made public, he was named to be part of the umpiring crew for the 2017 All-Star Game. The details of his allegations were made public in April 2019 when he filed documents relative to the lawsuit, including that Torre's hiring had made "professional life even harder for minorities in baseball" and that Torre had not done enough to rectify the situation. He added that MLB was reluctant to promote members of minorities to positions of leadership throughout the industry, including promotion as crew chief for long-serving umpires. MLB responded through its counsel that (any) "allegation that they have engaged in any discriminatory conduct (was) unsupported by the evidence".

Later during the 2017 season, on August 15th, Ian Kinsler criticized him rather harshly, not as part of an emotion-filled rant, but in a measured discussion one day after having been ejected from a game for simply asking a question about the strike zone. As Kinsler put it, Hernandez should be reflecting on whether he still belongs on the field as a major league umpire, given his inability to take any form of criticism: "It has to do with changing the game. He's changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does." The comments did not lead to prolonged animosity between the two, as in the game of August 16th, he had an on-field conversation with Kinsler which ended with the two shaking hands. Kinsler was only fined for his words and not suspended, something which angered the World Umpires Association; its members began to wear wristbands to protest the lack of serious discipline against what they considered to be serious abuse of their profession. The protest ended after one day when Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed to meet with union leaders to discuss the matter.

MLB's reaction to Hernandez's lawsuit was to file a motion to have it dismissed for being in an improper venue. The case was filed in a U.S. district court in Ohio, but Hernandez was a resident of Florida while MLB is headquartered in New York, NY. In spite of the lawsuit, Hernandez was named to be part of the umpiring crew working the American League Division Series between the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox that fall. In 2018, he worked another ALDS and had a rough day at the office in Game 3 on October 8th. Working at first base in the game between the New York Yankees and Red Sox, he had three of his calls challenged in a two-inning span, and all three of them were overturned following a video review. As fate would have it, he was working home plate for Game 4, and Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, who had a rough outing, did not spare his criticism of his work after the loss which eliminated the Yankees.

Hernandez ran into more criticism in spring training in 2019 as on March 15th, he ejected Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch after an argument after only one batter in the bottom of the 1st. After the game, the usually mild-mannered Hinch called Hernandez "unprofessional" and "arrogant", earning himself a one-game suspension for his outburst. On July 24th, he was the home plate umpire at the center of another controversy when Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash moved P Adam Kolarek to 1B to bring in Chaz Roe; the dispute was over which of the two pitchers would replace DH Austin Meadows in the batting order, and which would take 1B Ji-Man Choi's spot. It delayed the game for a good 20 minutes but Red Sox manager Alex Cora was not satisfied and played the rest of the game under protest. MLB later alleged that during its investigation of the embarrassing incident, Hernandez "intentionally and deceptively" eavesdropped on a confidential call with fellow umpire Ed Hickox. This was raised as part of MLB's defence in the 2017 lawsuit, as another example of inappropriate behavior.

Hernandez's lawsuit against MLB was dismissed by Federal Judge J. Paul Oetken on March 31, 2021 as he stated in his summary judgment that "no reasonable juror could find that MLB’s stated explanation is a pretext for discriminatory motive." He explained that MLB had presented a compelling case that Hernandez's lack of advancement was based on professional evaluations, and that other umpires had been passed over in favor of more junior ones also on the basis of their evaluations: "Hernández’s handful of cherry-picked examples does not reliably establish any systematic effort on MLB's part to artificially deflate Hernández’s evaluations, much less an effort to do so in order to cover up discrimination. The evidence shows beyond genuine dispute that an umpire's leadership and situation management carried the day in MLB’s promotion decisions." Hernandez appealed Judge Oetken's decision, and in its response, MLB detailed the numerous failings attributed to Hernandez, included the incidents described above, to buttress its argument that, given plenty of chances, Hernandez had not demonstrated that he had the temperament to work under the media glare of a World Series game, or to become a crew chief on a permanent basis, and that this had nothing to do with his race or ethnic origin. In its filing, made public at the end of August 2022, MLB stated that "Hernández has been quick to eject managers, which enflames on-field tensions, rather than issue warnings that potentially could defuse those situations. Hernández also has failed to communicate with other umpires on his crew, which has resulted in confusion on the field and unnecessary game delays."

He worked the 2023 World Baseball Classic, but missed the first half of that major league season with a back injury. On August 15, 2023, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the 2021 decision that granted MLB a summary judgment. Judges Susan L. Carney and Steven J. Menash stated in their decision: "Hernández has failed to establish a statistically significant disparity between the promotion rates of white and minority umpires. MLB has provided persuasive expert evidence demonstrating that, during the years at issue, the difference in crew chief promotion rates between white and minority umpires was not statistically significant. Hernández offers no explanation as to why MLB’s statistical evidence is unreliable." He also failed to demonstrate that Joe Torre had displayed any personal animosity towards him. There was still a possibility for Hernandez to appeal the decision further, to the Supreme Court, although it wasn't clear whether his lawyers would find any ground to do so. He failed to file a further appeal, and on May 27, 2024 it was announced that he had decided to retire after coming to a settlement with MLB. He had worked his last game a few weeks earlier, on May 9th.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jack Baer: "MLB umpire Angel Hernandez loses racial discrimination suit against league", Yahoo! Sports, March 31, 2021. [1]
  • Ronald Blum (Associated Press): "MLB: Umpire Hernández blew calls, losing World Series job", Yahoo! News, August 31, 2022. [2]
  • Ronald Blum (Associated Press): "Umpire Angel Hernandez loses again in lawsuit vs MLB when appeals court refuses to reinstate case", Yahoo! Sports, August 15, 2023. [3]
  • Anthony Fenech: "Kinsler: Umpire 'needs to find another job,' messing with games 'blatantly'", The Detroit Free Press, August 15, 2017. [4]
  • Mike Fitzpatrick (Associated Press): "Longtime umpire Ángel Hernández retires immediately", Yahoo! Sports, May 28, 2024. [5]
  • A.J. Perez: "Umpire alleges MLB, Joe Torre discriminating against minorities", USA Today, April 10, 2019. [6]
  • James Pilcher: "Ump files racial discrimination suit against MLB", Cincinnati Enquirer, July 3, 2017. [7]

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