MLB umpire Ángel Hernández retiring after 3 decades

MLB umpire Ángel Hernández is retiring effective immediately, ending a controversial three-decade-long career that in recent years turned Hernández into a source of consternation with players and a punching bag among fans on social media.

The 62-year-old Hernández, who in a statement confirmed earlier reports he would be retiring, reached a settlement to leave Major League Baseball, according to a source, and will leave after umpiring thousands of games since his debut in 1991.

Hernández, who worked his last game May 9 and was replaced on Lance Barksdale's crew by Jacob Metz, sued MLB in 2017, alleging the league had engaged in racial discrimination. The lawsuit was thrown out by a district court judge, a decision upheld by an appeals court last year.

With a penchant for bad calls -- during a 2018 playoff game, he had three calls reversed by replay in the first four innings -- Hernández received a disproportionate amount of odium from fans. The lawsuit only added to the animus Hernández generated, and the groundswell grew to the point that Hernández retired after missing much of the 2023 season with a back injury.

Hernandez is well-liked among umpires, who have borne the brunt of more criticism in recent years and rallied around him as a person. His on-field work, however, left enough to be desired that Hernández became a constant trending topic on social media platforms and among the most maligned figures in the game.

Just this season, Hernández called three strikes on pitches well off the plate from Houston's J.P. France to Texas' Wyatt Langford. In 2022, Philadelphia designated hitter Kyle Schwarber was ejected by Hernández after he slammed his bat following a called strike three on a Josh Hader fastball that was off the plate.

Other Hernández mishaps predated the league's institution of instant replay, including an incident in which Chicago Bears great Steve McMichael was ejected from Wrigley Field after criticizing Hernández over the stadium's loudspeaker during the seventh-inning stretch.

Particularly after the retirement of Joe West before the 2022 season, Hernández became the face of umpiring -- a job that has taken on increased importance with umpires relied upon to implement pace-of-game measures, including the pitch clock. Ball-and-strike umpiring, which became front and center in the criticism of Hernández, could soon be assisted -- or altogether taken over -- by the use of MLB's automated ball-strike system, which is currently utilized in the minor leagues but won't be in the big leagues until at earliest 2026.

The grading system of umpires is intentionally opaque, though commissioner Rob Manfred at last week's owner's meetings stood up for the league's work with umpires.

"There is, in fact, a really detailed evaluation system," Manfred said, according to The Athletic. "They get evaluated twice a year, in mid-season, and at the end of the season. There are monetary ramifications to those evaluations in terms of what they get in terms of postseason assignments, which is a big part of -- a big increment to what they earn. And there are, in fact, mandatory remedial activities that are more frequently than people realize imposed on umpires.

"Having said that, I think that the management of umpires is ... a physically demanding job. It goes beyond just the evaluation, training and discipline. It also goes to things like thinking about their career path, how long should they be out there? And that implicates things like your retirement program. I mean, there's a lot to the management of it that I don't think everybody fully appreciates."

Hernández had not worked a World Series game since 2005 and last umpired a league championship series in 2016. His lack of playoff assignments, as well as no promotion to crew chief despite his tenure, served as the basis for his lawsuit against the league.

Hernández blamed league executive Joe Torre, who was in charge of umpiring and later in a declaration said Hernández had an "overly confrontational style." The judge granted MLB a summary judgment in the case.

In his full statement, Hernández said: "Starting with my first Major League game in 1991, I have had the very good experience of living out my childhood dream of umpiring in the major leagues.

"There is nothing better than working at a profession that you enjoy. I treasured the camaraderie of my colleagues and the friendships I have made along the way, including our locker room attendants in all the various cities.

"I have decided that I want to spend more time with my family.

"Needless to say, there have been many positive changes in the game of baseball since I first entered the profession. This includes the expansion and promotion of minorities. I am proud that I was able to be an active participant in that goal while being a Major League umpire."