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Ump Who Blew Call Friday Night Once Fired as Minor League Ump

MINNEAPOLIS — from – Phil Cuzzi, the umpire who missed a call down the left-field line that helped cost the Twins their game Friday night at Yankee Stadium, was fired as a minor league umpire in 1993.

According to a June 1999 story by The Associated Press, Cuzzi was working at a hotel bar in July 1999 when he approached National League president Len Coleman and asked for a chance to get back into umpiring.

Coleman allowed Cuzzi to work his way back from the low minors, and Cuzzi was one of 25 new umpires hired in 1999 as a response to mass resignations that were part of a failed labor ploy.

Cuzzi, working the left-field line in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, ruled Joe Mauer’s 11th-inning drive foul from about 15 feet away. But the ball clearly hit in fair territory, and it would have been a double for Mauer. He later singled, but the Twins failed to score and went on to lose in the bottom of the inning.

As Twins closer Joe Nathan told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “I had a tough night the inning before, and [Cuzzi] made a bad call there. So we both blew one tonight.”

And Cuzzi, 44, had yet to speak about the call until a Saturday night interview with the Newark Star-Ledger. After the game, crew chief Tim Tschida addressed the missed call in lieu of Cuzzi, which is standard practice.

“Some things are correctable,” Tschida said. “Some things can be overturned. Some things are just — you have to go with what the guy closest to the play had and you live and die with the decision.

“We just feel horribly when that happens to us, you know? There’s a guy sitting over in the umpire’s dressing room right now that feels horrible. I’ve been there. … Nobody feels it worse than the umpire.”

Cuzzi told the Star-Ledger he felt horribly about missing the call.

“Unless you umpire, you can’t possibly understand,” Cuzzi told the Star-Ledger in a phone interview Saturday night. “It happens. It happens at the worst possible time. And it happened to me.” …

“We’re not used to playing that far down the line,” Cuzzi said. “The instant the ball is hit, we usually start running. I think I may have been looking too closely at it. I never had a feel for where the left fielder was on the play.”

But this much he knows: “There is no excuse. I missed the play. It’s a terrible feeling. As badly as many people on that field may have felt (Friday), I don’t think any of them had a worse night’s sleep than I did.”

In October 1999, the Mets protested to Major League Baseball that Cuzzi, working home plate for a Mets-Braves game, refused to ask for help from the first- and third-base umpires. A New York Post story suggested it was because the corner umpires were union veterans and he was one of the hired replacements.

This is not Cuzzi’s first assignment for a big event; he worked the 2003-04 Division Series, the 2005 NLCS and the 2008 All-Star Game.

The 1999 AP story on Cuzzi read:

Cuzzi began umpiring in 1985 in the New York-Penn League. By 1991, he was a fill-in for the NL, and he worked a total of 95 games in the majors in a three-year span — ejecting the likes of Bobby Bonilla, Dallas Green and Jim Lefebvre along the way.

Then on the day before Thanksgiving in 1993 came the dreaded call. He had done well, but there were no foreseeable spots for him in the majors, and he was being released — forever.

Though about a dozen pro umps get dropped each year, “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Saturday instant replay probably isn’t a solution.

“Give me a headset and give me a red flag and we can fix this stuff,” he said, “but I would have to have somebody calling me up saying ‘throw your flag, let’s question this call.’

“The great thing about baseball is the human elements involved, and we always want to keep it that way; (it’s) not easy when you are in New York. The lines are short and it’s not easy, so there you have it. You are going to have a few. We made enough mistakes ourselves and we missed opportunities to win the game ourselves, too. It just goes that way sometimes.”

Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: “I like the way they are doing it, just home run calls. Those are important plays, and there are other important plays, and you could look at the play the other night and say that was an important play, but I think there would be too many things that people would want instant replay, and where would you stop?”


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