Angel Hernandez alleged in a legal filing with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Major League Baseball manipulated its internal umpiring metrics to disadvantage minorities, thereby excluding them from becoming crew chiefs.
The filing is the latest salvo in Hernandez’s discrimination claim against MLB filed in 2017, which a lower court tossed in March 2021, though not without first acknowledging baseball had a “diversity issue.”
Hernandez claimed MLB has a history of discriminating against minority umpires, pointing out that as of the filing of his lawsuit, there had only been one minority crew chief in the league’s 150 years (Richie Garcia) — though that number has grown in the years since . There are 19 umpiring crews, each with four umpires, one of whom is a crew chief. In the appeal brief filed this week, seeking an overrule of the lower court judge’s dismissal, he also raised the argument that MLB not only looked the other way on its lack of diversity, but it altered the season-ending umpiring reports to justify this behavior .
“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 umpire argued in the short filing.
MLB during the time period covered in the complaint, 2011-16, performed midseason reviews of umpires called umpire evaluation reports (UER), and followed with year-end reviews. Hernandez said his UERs were glowing, but when it came time for his year-end review, the results did not reflect the previous positive assessments.
“[A] review of Mr. Hernandez’s Year-End Evaluations and his UERs for the years 2011-2016 reveals that MLB manipulated Mr. Hernandez’s year-end evaluations in order to make his job performance appear worse than it actually was,” he argued. “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.”
MLB did not respond when asked for comment. But while the case was active in the lower court, the league consistently denied it discriminated and said Hernandez’s failure to ascend to crew chief or get a World Series assignment was due to his lack of leadership.
“Hernandez has not demonstrated the leadership ability and situation management skills in critical, high-pressure roles on a consistent basis,” Joe Torre testified in a deposition, excerpts of which were included in court filings. At the time, Torre was MLB’s chief baseball officer, overseeing and reviewing umpires.
Herandez is a controversial umpire, at times known for missed calls and confrontations with players and managers. His lawyer, Kevin Murphy, said he would like to refute these claims with the umpire evaluation forms, but they are covered under a protective order issued by the lower court.
“I wish I wasn’t under a protective order because baseball has the statistical analysis on balls and strikes and replay,” he said. “Take this year for instance. Angel missed his first call the other day in two months. … The guy’s got an awful lot of courage. Doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t whine. He’s taking a lot of unnecessary wrongful abuse. And I just hope the Second Circuit gives us a chance to air it out in the courtroom.”
The heart of the appeal is the argument that the judge erred in ruling that because of the small sample size – both of the umpire pool and the number of minorities – statistics are not meaningful, and without them, the discrimination claims fall.
Judge Paul Oetken wrote in his opinion, “MLB recognized internally, during the period at issue in this case it employed an unfortunately low proportion of minority umpires.” Then referring to Hernandez’s legal argument of inexorable zero, or the failure of an employer to promote or hire any minority employees that “[i]Ronically, the case for the ‘inexorable zero’ in this non-promotion case might be stronger if MLB employed a greater number of minority umpires, or if the promotion pool were large enough to lend the ‘inexorable zero’ theory more weight.”
Murphy calls this a loophole for smaller employers.
MLB now has 30 to 45 days to file its response, and then the Second Circuit will either schedule an oral argument or rule based on the briefs.
Hernandez, through his filing, acknowledged MLB has made recent strides in hiring minority crew chiefs. MLB, for the first time, promoted an African-American umpire to crew chief, Kerwin Danley; and in 2020, MLB promoted, for only the second time in its history, a Latino umpire to crew chief, Alfonso Marquez.
(Picture: Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)