Chief of Naval Operations
Ex-umpire supervisor alleges MLB foul play with Questec system
by Dave Wedge
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
A former Major League Baseball executive shredded documents about a controversial umpire evaluation system, while the league offered hush money to the whistleblower who witnessed the alleged incident, according to affidavits obtained by the Herald.
Ex-umpire supervisor Phil Janssen made the claims to the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that former MLB vice-president Ralph Nelson destroyed evidence that showed the Questec pitch tracking system was being manipulated.
The alleged shredding occurred in Commissioner Bud Selig's New York City office on July 19, 2002 - the day news broke that the umpires' union was challenging the league's use of the controversial system.
``Nelson was feeding the shredder,'' Janssen wrote in an affidavit. ``I could see that the documents had the Major League Baseball logo in the upper left hand corner and that across the page were numerical breakdowns of Questec data for each umpire. ... He said to me, `Don't want to have any of these around.'''
Questec, which many players and umpires claim is ruining the integrity of the national pastime, digitally records balls and strikes and compares them to umpires' calls. The system was first installed in Fenway Park in 2001 and is now in 11 of 30 big league ballparks with plans to expand.
As one example of his claim that MLB was manipulating Questec umpire evaluations, Janssen said the documents that were shredded were the same ones presented at a June 5, 2002, meeting at which umpire Jerry Davis was chosen over Bruce Froemming for the All-Star Game in Milwaukee.
Davis got the plum assignment because higher-ups said he had a better Questec rating, but Janssen said the documents showed Froemming's was actually higher.
``They've got physical numbers on a piece of paper. It's about control, manipulation and coercion,'' Janssen said.
Nelson, who inked the five-year deal with Questec, worked under MLB executive vice president Sandy Alderson until resigning last month for ``personal reasons.'' He vehemently denied the accusations yesterday.
``The thing absolutely did not happen. It was an accusation made by a disgruntled employee that I let go,'' Nelson said.
NLRB investigator Jamie Rucker said the shredding claim was investigated but was withdrawn by the umpires' union before a finding was made. Larry S. Gibson, attorney for the World Umpire Association, said the complaint was not handled by the union. An MLB spokesman said the league had no comment because there is a pending arbitration case over Questec.
Janssen, who was fired in February, provided the Herald with a contract from MLB offering him a $50,000 lump sum severance package that included a clause barring him from speaking out against the Commissioner's Office for 10 years. A longtime minor league ump who supervised and trained big league umpires for 11 years, Janssen declined the buyout.
``I refused it because what is happening here is wrong,'' he said. ``It's really a sad situation and it's corrupt.''
Gibson, the union's attorney, said Questec's Umpire Information System is easily manipulated, has never been proven accurate, and is being used in violation of the union's contract to rate the umpires and determine who gets prestigious All-Star and World Series games. A Baltimore arbitrator is currently hearing the case.
``If Pete Rose doesn't belong in baseball, then Questec doesn't belong in the ballpark,'' Gibson said.
Documents show that the 2002 All-Star selection meeting consisted of top baseball brass reviewing Questec data with Edward Plumacher, a disgraced stockbroker who runs the financially disastrous company.
Plumacher has been fined for a litany of securities violations and banned by the American Stock Exchange and the Vancouver Stock Exchange. In 1996, the New York Attorney General found Questec to be a ``repeat offender'' for reporting violations and fined the company $20,000.
Once selling for as much as $1.24 per share, Questec shares now sell for 1/100th of a penny and the company has been de-listed publicly.Plumacher could not be reached for comment and messages left at the company's Deer Park, N.Y., office were not returned.
Alderson and other MLB officials have stood behind Questec. On the company's Web site, Alderson is quoted as saying, ``The real problem with the system might be that it works too well, not that it doesn't work well enough.''
But the cameras, located overhead behind the plate and on the first and third base lines, routinely miss pitches when players block the cameras, lighting changes or railings are shaken. Umpires also argue that Questec operators, most of whom have no formal baseball experience, can create their own strike zone at will and selectively eliminate pitches from the data.
``They don't know what the hell they're doing,'' said retired umpire Eddie Vargo. ``I wish the hell they would just throw the damn cameras out.''
Scores of players, including Billerica native and New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, have slammed the system, saying it shrinks the strike zone and makes umpires call games differently in parks with the technology.
Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said he sees a difference in the way umpires call games in Questec ballparks.
``They won't say Big Brother's watching but if a pitch is borderline ... they'll say, `That's a pitch right there that they want called a ball now,''' Varitek said.
and people wonder why baseball is so incompetant...
maybe this will be what finally ends the horrible bud selig era and brings in a new administration to run (not run into the ground) baseball.