Embattled umpire Ángel Hernández alleges MLB altered evaluations to hurt minorities

·4-min read

Umpire Ángel Hernández is again making allegations of discrimination against MLB as he appeals a judge’s decision to throw out his lawsuit against the league.

According to The Athletic, Hernández filed an appeal this week that accuses MLB of manipulating internal evaluations to prevent minority umpires from being promoted to crew chief. Hernández, born in Cuba, originally sued the league in 2017 claiming his ethnicity was a factor when it declined to appoint him to be a crew chief or to work the World Series.

U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken tossed out the suit in March 2021, ruling that “no reasonable juror could find that MLB’s stated explanation is a pretext for discriminatory motive.” He also denied a motion to reconsider the decision in January. In that appeal, Hernández and his legal team argued the judge misapplied the law by ruling that the pool of minority umpires was too small to statistically infer discrimination.

“The District Court’s decision is detrimental not just to baseball, but to minorities everywhere who seek promotions from within small pools of candidates,” Kevin Murphy, Hernández’s lawyer, said in a January statement while promising to challenge the decision with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. “Discrimination is discrimination — period.”

That latest challenge is here. Per The Athletic’s report, the appeal claims MLB put a finger on the scale of year-end umpire reviews to justify a lack of promotions for minority candidates.

“The District Court also failed to give appropriate weight to evidence of MLB’s disparate treatment of Mr. Hernandez, including evidence that MLB was manipulating the performance of Mr. Hernandez and other minority umpires to make their performances look worse,” the filing reportedly says.

The crux of this argument centers on alleged disparities between midseason umpire reviews and year-end reviews.

“Mr. Hernandez’s Year-End Evaluations for the 2011-2016 seasons do not even come close to accurately summarizing Mr. Hernandez’s actual performance in those seasons,” the appeal argues.

In response to the earlier filings, the AP reported that MLB repeatedly denied any discriminatory intent and explained the variety of factors — some admittedly subjective — that factored into promotion decisions for umpires. Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager who was then MLB’s chief baseball officer overseeing competition and umpires, said Hernández was passed over because he “has not demonstrated the leadership ability and situation-management skills in critical high-pressure roles on a consistent basis.”

Umpire Ángel Hernández, seen here during an April game influenced by his controversial ball-strike calls, filed suit against MLB in 2017 for discrimination. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Umpire Ángel Hernández, seen here during an April game influenced by his controversial ball-strike calls, filed suit against MLB in 2017 for discrimination. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The judge acknowledged MLB’s “diversity issue” but dismissed claims that decisions about Hernández’s promotions or assignments stemmed from racial discrimination or personal animus from Torre.

“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 judge wrote. “The evidence shows beyond genuine dispute that an umpire’s leadership and situation management carried the day in MLB’s promotion decisions.”

Numbers on the lacking diversity in the umpire ranks that Hernández cited in 2017 have become slightly less glaring in the years since he filed his suit.

MLB has since promoted Kerwin Danley, the first Black crew chief, and Alfonso Marquez, the second Latino crew chief. When Danley and other umpires retired prior to 2022, Laz Diaz — a Black umpire of Cuban descent — was among the group of new crew chiefs. Hernández was also a temporary crew chief during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Hernández’s place in the sport as a bristling and unpredictable figure have, if anything, become more distinct since the suit was filed. He accused MLB umpiring executive Randy Marsh of making "disturbing" racial comments, and allegedly improperly eavesdropped on a league call about an umpiring incident during a 2019 game.

Murphy, Hernández’s lawyer, told The Athletic he wishes there weren’t a protective order barring him from revealing his client’s umpire evaluation forms. He claims that the reports show that Hernández “missed his first call the other day in two months.” Of course, it hasn’t yet been two months since a flurry of controversial ball-strike calls altered a Phillies-Brewers game and set off Philadelphia slugger Kyle Schwarber.

While we can’t know how closely they hew to MLB’s internal metrics, public umpire grading systems found Hernández’s calls that night to be notably inaccurate.

The Athletic reports that MLB now has 30 to 45 days to respond, at which point the court will either issue a ruling or schedule oral arguments.

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