Photo credit: Bob Levey/Getty

Angel Hernandez, a Cuban MLB umpire currently in his 24th year in the league, filed a lawsuit today in federal court saying that the league discriminated against him and other minority umpires on the basis of race.

Hernandez’s lawsuit, which can be read in its entirety at the bottom of this post, consists two components. One—the focus of most of the complaint—recounts what Hernandez describes as specific and unfounded targeting by Joe Torre, currently MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer who oversees the league’s umpires, dating back to a dust-up between the two in 2001 while Torre managed the Yankees. The other relates to what Hernandez characterizes as the intentional efforts of Torre and the league to limit opportunities for minority umpires by not assigning them to the World Series and failing to promote them to the crew chief role.

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The suit begins with Hernandez detailing how, from 2002 to 2010, he received consistent feedback from the commissioner’s office saying he was an above-average umpire. The league grades umpires midway through every season and again at the end of the year. The commissioner’s office evaluates umpires on a variety of criteria and sends the individual reviews to the umpires in question. From 2002 to 2010, Hernandez claims in the lawsuit that the league regularly praised him for his performances on and off the field. He often received the “exceeds standards” grade on various aspects of his performance, the highest mark possible.

Things changed starting with the 2011 season. That year—Torre’s first as a member of MLB’s front office—Hernandez failed to receive a single “exceeds standards” grade on any of the review criteria. His review from that season also included a critical remark that, since then, has repeatedly shown up on his reviews in the Torre era. As the first midseason review in 2011 put it, per the lawsuit:

You need to work on your communication skills with on-field personnel, particularly because your approach has fostered a Club perception that you try to put yourself in the spotlight by seeing things that other umpires do not.

That comment about the so-called “perception” of Hernandez as a spotlight-seeker echoed sentiments Torre expressed after a game on May 4, 2001. At that time the manager of the Yankees, Torre hit out at Hernandez in the press about a call Torre disagreed with:

Torre was quoted by the media as saying that Hernandez “seems to see something nobody else does,” quipping that “you’d like to have him sit down and watch the video, something I’m sure he doesn’t do...” Torre went on to say that, if Hernandez had reviewed the video, “he would look like a fool.”

Torre further commented on Hernandez by saying, “I think he just wanted to be noticed over there.”

Hernandez says in his lawsuit that his prior performance as evidenced by his laudatory seasonal reviews belies any inference that he had a reputation as an umpire looking to bring attention to himself. He points out that even after that note started showing up in his performance reviews—along with the 2011 review, similar language pointing to Hernandez’s league-wide perception appeared in his reviews from 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016—none of the individual gameday reviews pointed to any specific incidents showing this kind of behavior.

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On top of the insinuations about Hernandez’s reputation, the suit alleges that Hernandez’s general marks on his reviews began to drop noticeably after 2011. In addition, Hernandez has not been selected to work a World Series during Torre’s time in the commissioner’s office despite his veteran status and what Hernandez says is his notable proficiency at his job—nor, for that matter, has he been promoted to crew chief despite applying for the role multiple times. Officiating the World Series (something Hernandez was selected for in 2002 and 2005) and being promoted to crew chief (a job Hernandez has twice taken up on an interim basis) both come with substantial pay increases that Hernandez feels he has been unfairly prevented from getting.

All of that specific background flows into the suit’s more general claims about racial discrimination. Hernandez says that since 2000, none of the 23 umpires who have been made crew chiefs have been minorities. Since Torre took over, all 10 of the umpires who have been promoted to crew chief have been white. Hernandez personally has applied for permanent crew chief status on four different occasions since 2011 and has been passed over each time.

Along with the stats about crew chiefs, Hernandez says that of the 36 possible umpire spots for the six World Series of Torre’s tenure, only two of those have gone to a minority: both to Mexican umpire Alfonso Marquez in 2011 and 2015.

Because of all this, Hernandez has sued the commissioner’s office on three different counts of racially discriminatory practices. He seeks back pay for checks he missed by not working any World Series games since Torre took over and being overlooked as a crew chief, as well as other compensatory damages.

[Cincinnati Enquirer]