|Friday, June 13
Nelson 'divorces' himself from dysfunctional situation
By Darren Rovell
Ralph Nelson, Major League Baseball's vice president of umpiring, resigned Thursday, ending a three-year tenure marred by disagreements between the league and baseball's umpires, most recently over the QuesTec Umpire Information System.
Nelson, whose job it was to coordinate all of the league's umpiring activities, only a week ago had compared baseball's umpires to the children of a dysfunctional family.
"They just don't like being judged," Nelson told the Arizona Republic. "The analogy I use is that of a divorced family. The kids go to dad's house and have ice cream for breakfast. They come home to mom and have to live by stricter rules. So, of course, they want to stay at dad's house. They want to eat ice cream."
Sandy Alderson, baseball's executive vice president, was not available for comment Friday afternoon. But Rob Manfred, baseball's vice president of labor relations, told ESPN.com that Nelson "was not terminated and this has absolutely nothing to do with QuesTec or any other issue related to the supervision of umpires."
Nelson's comments in the Arizona Republic had nothing to do with his resignation, league spokesman Pat Courtney added.
Ball-strike calls have been the subject of renewed controversy recently. While Alderson has maintained that QuesTec's computerized evaluation tool -- which monitors the accuracy of umpires' calls in 10 of 30 major-league ballparks -- has contributed to better accuracy of calls by the league's umpires, the World Umpires Association said it believes use of the system can be detrimental to the game.
"Ralph Nelson is the person who signed the five-year contract with QuesTec," said Larry Gibson, attorney for the World Umpires Association. "He did so without obtaining any independent review of either the company or the system. He relied upon the claims of the vendors as to what the system could do. QuesTec has become an embarrassment to Major League Baseball.
"This development provides the opportunity to change that."
Not only have umpires criticized baseball's reliance on the system -- the highest-rated umpires receive coveted postseason assignments -- but they filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board in March, claiming that the system is not a reliable evaluation tool. Hearings are scheduled to begin July 7 and run through the end of the month.
Players also have complained about the use of the technology, especially pitchers who have said that the machine is encouraging a tighter strike zone. On May 24, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling destroyed a QuesTec machine at Bank One Ballpark.
"The QuesTec system in this ballpark is a joke," said Schilling, who was later fined $15,000 by the league for the act. "The umpires have admitted it. They hate it. In the last three starts I've made here, multiple times umpires have said to the catcher, 'It's a pitch I want to call a strike but the machine won't let me.' "
Nelson did not return messages seeking comment.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ESPN The Magazine senior editor Luke Cyphers contributed to this story.