October 5, 2011
Much to Major League Baseball's dismay, the story of recent postseasons has been, much-too-often, the poor officiating. From missed strike calls to poor positioning to blatantly wrong fair/foul calls (I'm looking at you, Phil Cuzzi!), fans hoping to see a game decided strictly by the players on the field have been devastated by bad calls in recent years. Umpires have been better this season, with most complaints coming from ball/strike calls that disagree with the on-screen map. Compared to the last few years, that's heaven.
Imagine, then, how you would feel if the umpires went on strike as the playoffs began, forcing MLB to use scabs in the postseason. Doesn't sound too good, does it? That's exactly what happened in the 1970 playoffs, only the second year of the League Championship Series.
As the season ended and the Orioles, Twins, Pirates, and Reds prepared for their series, the umpire's union threatened to strike if their postseason wages were not increased. They did not officially "strike", but they did refuse to work Game 1 of either series. In their place, "minor league and former major league umpires" called the games. Both game ones were played on Saturday, October 3; terms between baseball and the union were reached on Wednesday, October 7. Newspapers I was able to find make reference to only "the first games of the playoffs" using the replacement umpires, and a quick look at Games 1 & 2 of each series show that a group of six umpires (with familiar names, like Doug Harvey and Harry Wendelstedt) replaced a group of four umps between games. It's a safe bet that major league umpires were working those game twos.
The impact of the replacement umps seemed to be minimal, with no reports of terrible calls or errors in officiating cropping up. It's safe to say that the 1970 LCS' were not harmed by the near-strike.
Still, I can't help but imagine the outcry and pessimism that would result today from a similar situation. It would go unrivaled. The hyperbole would reach such a point that it would feel like we were returning to the halcyon days of Cap Anson and Old Hoss Radbourn, when umpires were as useful as a 19th-century mitt. Of course, a repeat of the near-umpire strike of 1970 would also mean that Joe West and Angel Hernandez were no longer umpiring playoff games.
Hmm... maybe it wouldn't be all bad.