Fans polled support umpires, dislike DH rule

Updated: October 21, 2005, 11:44 AM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Never mind the griping about blown calls on the baseball diamond. Most fans say the umps do a pretty good job.

Eight in 10 of those surveyed in an AP-AOL Sports poll say major league umpires do an excellent or good job. Only 1 percent rated them as poor.

"They do as well as they can. Everybody's human, they make mistakes," said Julie Johnson, a Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies fan who lives in Windsor, Colo.

The survey also showed that 69 percent think the designated hitter rule either should be expanded to both leagues or scrapped. Not surprisingly, American League fans were more likely than National League fans to favor the current system.

"I'd just as soon not see it in either league," said Gary Hartwig, a Cubs fan who lives near Hudson, Iowa. "The manager has fewer decisions to make when there's no pitcher hitting. It makes the game more boring."

A smaller majority does not like the All-Star game determining which team gets home-field advantage in the World Series.

The results come during a postseason that has seen its share of umpire-fueled controversy. The most notable example was Oct. 12 in the American League Championship Series when plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled a third strike had hit the dirt, allowing Chicago White Sox hitter A.J. Pierzynski to scamper to first base.

Replays appeared to show the catcher caught the ball, which would have been the third out. The pinch runner for Pierzynski eventually scored the winning run. The victory was the first of four straight for the White Sox, who advanced to the World Series.

Baseball is the only one of the four "major" sports -- football, basketball and hockey are the others -- that does not use instant replay to aid officials. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said there is no reason to think that will change now.

"There has never been much support for it in the past and I don't believe support for the concept has grown over the last week," he said this week.

The White Sox will have the home-field advantage against the Houston Astros in the World Series, which begins Saturday, by virtue of a rule change backed by Selig. Looking to spur interest in the All-Star game, baseball decided three years ago that the winning league in that game would gain home-field advantage for its representative in the Fall Classic.

The poll found that more than half of fans -- 56 percent -- do not like that change from the old rule, which alternated the home-field advantage from one league to the other each year. The poll conducted by Ipsos, an international polling firm, from Oct. 11-13 surveyed 1,000 adults, including the 394 baseball fans. The questions about baseball's rules were asked only of the fans.

All 1,000 were asked what was the biggest problem in Major League baseball. They were most likely to name player salaries, 29 percent, followed by players' use of steroids, 23 percent, and the cost of attending a game, 22 percent.

Another Selig-supported change -- interleague play, which began in 1997 -- is more popular, with 56 percent of fans favoring pitting National League teams against American League squads during the regular season.

The designated hitter rule, which allows American League teams to substitute a batter for the pitcher, has been controversial since its inception in 1973. Many baseball purists believe the "DH" takes away from the strategy of the game by, among other things, not forcing a manager to decide when to pinch hit for a pitcher.

The survey found 40 percent of fans think neither league should have the rule, while 29 percent say the National League should adopt it and 30 percent said things should stay as they are.

White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, a frequent DH in his later years, thinks the rule is a good idea.

"It's extended many careers. I think it should be universal; it would mean more jobs in baseball," he said. "Who wants to see pitchers hit? Nobody."

Houston Astros manager Phil Garner disagrees.

"There's plenty of offense in the game today," Garner said. "The game has more strategy without the DH, it's a more fun game to be involved in."

Other poll findings: The most popular teams are the New York Yankees, with 12 percent of those surveyed naming the Bronx Bombers as the team they root for during the regular season, and the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves with 11 percent each. Houston was named by 3 percent, while only 1 percent listed the White Sox.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press