Fans of the Chicago Cubs have learned to heal wounds over the years. In the heat of battle, we act in ways that can blur or perception of the truth.
For the past 15 years, Major League umpire Angel Hernandez has represented all the negative feelings one could harbor about a person. In one quick, yet subtle moment, Hernandez changed the way I not only viewed him but how I viewed the profession.
August 7th, 2001 was memorable for more than one reason. The Chicago Cubs were in the thick of division race, and a blown call at home provided one of the greatest moments in Wrigley Field history.
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Cubs third baseman Ron Coomer stretched out at home plate, appearing to beat the tag. Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez flinched briefly before calling the lumbering slugger out. Hernandez had a rough night behind the plate, but it was the judgment call at home that caught the ire of the hometown crowd.
Steve “Mongo” McMichael, member of the 1985 Chicago Bears, provided the real fireworks during the seventh inning stretch. Cub fans, still reeling from the out call at home, were looking for someone to defend their honor. McMichael, no doubt aided by beer, publicly challenged Henandez to a fight after the game.
The move was rewarded with an ejection from the umpire. It marked the first time in Cubs history that a guest conductor had ever been thrown out of the stadium.
As a fan, we often see what we want to see. Cub fans clearly thought Adrian Gonzalez was out at home, while the rest of the twitter universe disagreed. The pressure of a playoff race, fueled by the close calls that could decide an outcome, blinded my ability to process the moment. It was in that fleeting moment that I believed he finally got one right.
Angel Hernandez became the symbol of the failures of my team. When the Cubs missed a call, or something went against them, it seemed as though Henandez happened to be involved. On the other hand, perhaps that was what I wanted to believe.
As quickly as I was to judge Henandez for simply doing his job, the unwarranted opinions I carried for years were washed away during an off-the-cuff conversation.
Anthony Rizzo showed true sportsmanship last night by apologizing to Angel Hernandez. Rizzo dropped his bat and started walking to first after drawing what he thought was ball four. An act that could be seen as showing the umpire up, Rizzo quickly admitted fault.
Furthermore, Rizzo took a moment later in the game to speak with Hernandez about the incident.
Hernandez showed an incredible amount of understanding. The veteran umpire recognized the competitive nature of the game and praised Rizzo for doing things the right way.
Suddenly I could see clearly. I’m granted the ability to be swayed by emotions when umpires can’t. Judgment calls happen every day in baseball, and nobody is perfect. Thankfully this sport rewards redemption, even if it takes 15 years.