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Angel's in the Courtroom

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Angel Hernandez is one of, if not the most, recognizable umpire in the MLB. Unfortunately, for all of the wrong reasons.

The Original Suit

Much maligned for his inconsistencies on the field, Hernandez put his name at the forefront of the sport when he filed a discrimination claim against the MLB in 2017 alleging that there was not enough diversity among major league umpires. This claim was originally tossed by the courts in March of 2021 and Hernandez promptly filed a motion to reconsider, citing a misapplication of the law by the jury.

Judge J. Paul Oetken of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York originally ruled that it is impossible to statistically prove racial discrimination based on the small sample size of major league umpires. Oetken also denied his motion to reconsider citing the fact that Hernandez was advocating for policy change rather than something that can be remedied by the courts.

The Current Claim

Fast forward another year to the present day and Hernandez's lawyers have filed a claim to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the summary judgment of Judge Oetken, this time citing that the MLB allegedly manipulated Hernandez's performance reviews in order to deny him an assignment to high profile games such as the World Series.

Hernandez and his lawyers focus their argument around the concept of "the inexorable zero." The inexorable zero first arose in International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United States which was centered around Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employers from discriminating based on race or national origin. The precise meaning of the "inexorable zero" is still lacking a firm standard, however, it references the complete absence or a negligible amount of minorities hired by an employer.

Judge Oetken rejected this sentiment in the original claim stating,

"Hernandez attempts to rely on the inexorable zero,' or the notion that courts should set aside statistical analyses in circumstances where few minorities or women have been employed. While the inexorable zero may be compelling in the case of a larger employer who has hired or promoted no minority candidates, it is less compelling in the present context, where both the pool of umpires and the number of available promotions are small."

Hernandez and his lawyers reject this argument, stating that this sort of rationalization is an avenue for smaller employers to discriminate and not be subject to Title VII regulation.

Is Hernandez Right? (Kind of)

Whether the claims of Hernandez and his lawyers are legitimate in reference to the overall hiring and promotion practices of Major League Baseball, in Hernandez's case he is far from deserving a spot in high-leverage games. It's easy to point to the three overturned calls in game 3 of the 2018 ALDS between the Yankees and Red Sox as the glaring example of poor performance. However, it's not just one bad day.

For the 2022 season, Hernandez is in the bottom 10 in accuracy, bottom 5 in consistency, and bottom 5 in wrong calls, with 126 in 11 games behind the plate. All of these statistics are taken from Umpire Scorecards, a website dedicated to using analytics and statistics to determine the performance of an umpire during each individual game and throughout the season. Umpire Scorecards is not affiliated with the MLB and therefore is a valuable neutral source of reference.

With all that being said, Hernandez's claims could at least raise valuable talking points for the MLB. There are only 2 minorities crew chiefs out of 19 total and there are statistically worse umpires than Hernandez who have been promoted to crew chief. Whether the claim is successful or not, players and fans alike should be pushing for the best umpires to become crew chiefs. The information is there and provided to the public by a neutral party. There are plenty of phenomenal umpires in the league like Venezuelan-born Edwin Moscoso, who since 2019 is 6th in accuracy sitting at 94.6% and is up to 94.4% consistency this season (11th best), or Mexican-born Alfonso Marquez, who is first in consistency (95%) and 3rd in accuracy (95.2%) for the 2022 season.

So while Hernandez might not be the ideal head of this movement, the idea behind it has legitimate merit. There should be more pressure on the MLB to have the best umpires as crew chiefs, and the best of those crews umpiring the highest leverage games of the season and postseason. Following this practice would seem to take positive steps towards remedying the alleged lack of diversity, as there are minority umpires currently sitting atop the stats. Either way, Hernandez's claims could have a positive impact on the league going forward and at the end of the day, fans, players, umpires, and the MLB just want to see the best product possible.

Evan Mattel is a rising 2L at Hofstra Law and VP of Sports of the Hofstra Sports and Entertainment Law Society. He is also an editor for Conduct Detrimental. He can be found on Twitter at @Evan_Mattel21.

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