Ángel Hernández, MLB’s most infamous umpire, leaves us with an odd legacy

By all accounts, Ángel Hernández is a nice guy.

Despite his reputation as Major League Baseball’s most-despised umpire, Hernández, who confirmed reports of his retirement on Monday afternoon, was supposedly a pleasant presence on the diamond. Players describe him as an eager conversationalist, affable and outgoing, qualities that are far from given in the high-stakes world of big league umpiring.

Though Hernández was far from beloved when it came to players — no amount of “how’s the family?” can overcome his laundry list of blown calls — many big leaguers made note of his personable nature when asked for their thoughts on the outgoing ump.

One current American Leaguer went as far to refer to the oft-maligned official as “a sweetheart.”

But when the news dropped Monday afternoon that Hernández was calling it a career after three decades on the job, the response from baseball fans was complete and total jubilation. Clips of his countless blunders went re-viral, his lowlights dotting the timeline. Fair or not, Hernández had become the face for awful officiating. The end of his reign, for thousands of ball-watching neutrals, was cause for celebration.

A different active MLBer perfectly summed up the dynamic.

“I don’t think many [players] disliked him as a person,” the player explained to Yahoo Sports. “He was just so bad at his job.”

That is, unfortunately, Hernández’s legacy.

Milwaukee Brewers manager Pat Murphy argues with umpire Angel Hernandez during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Milwaukee Brewers manager Pat Murphy argues with umpire Angel Hernández during a game against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

He will be most remembered, after 33 years of umpiring at the game’s highest level, for being downright abysmal at the gig.

Hernández’s history of bad decisions is legendary. He first made headlines in July of 1998, when he very, very incorrectly called Atlanta Braves outfielder Michael Tucker safe on a game-ending play at the plate. Three years later he was publicly critiqued by former Chicago Bear Steve McMichael during the seventh inning stretch of a game at Wrigley Field. An extremely frustrated-looking Hernández was shown on the broadcast scowling up at McMichael, who was eventually ejected by crew chief Randy Marsh. More recently, during Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS, Hernández had three calls overturned by replay in the first four innings.

And while Hernández retired with a below-average career ejection rate (data from Wall Street Journal via CloseCallSports.com) he had his fair share of confrontation over the years. The final ejection of his career came in April of 2022, when a fuming Kyle Schwarber famously reamed out the veteran ump for a horrendously large strike zone during a nationally televised game. Hernández even accomplished the extremely rare spring training ejection this year, hitting Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn and manager Oli Marmol back-to-back heave-hos on March 9.

Despite his generally warm personality, some players grew tired of what they saw as a pretentious, holier-than-thou, unnecessarily confrontational style of umpiring. Above all, players and managers disliked how often and how poorly Hernández got it wrong.

Hernández was also an outlier for other reasons. In a world dominated by white, English-speaking officials, the Cuban-born, Miami-raised Latino provided Spanish-speaking players a relatively rare opportunity to communicate with umpires in their native tongue. According to a 2018 study from Global Sport Matters, just 13.5 percent of MLB umpires identified as Hispanic, well behind the rate for MLB players.

Hernández sued MLB for racial discrimination in 2017, claiming that given his age and tenure, he should have been promoted to crew chief and given more playoff assignments. The league fought back, arguing that Hernández's lack of opportunities were a result of poor performance. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 2020 court filing by MLB lawyers described Hernández as “unsuitable to serve in a permanent leadership role and umpire in MLB’s highest-profile games.”

That statement, as harsh as it sounds, has been the opinion of many around the game. And it shows in the stats and game logs. Hernández grades out quite poorly at calling balls and strikes, according to UmpScoreCards.com. Perhaps more telling is that he hadn’t worked a World Series since 2005 and hadn’t umpired a League Championship Series since 2016. The league, and those in it, knew he was a detriment. But the umpires’ union is remarkably strong, leaving MLB no choice but to wait Hernández out.

And finally, that day has come and gone.

“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.” Hernández said in a statement. “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.”

Being an MLB umpire is a thankless job, both emotionally taxing and physically strenuous. Summer nights are spent sweating underneath layers of protective gear while fans hurl obscenities and empty feedback. But Hernández’s outwardly standoffish attitude and penchant for comically bad calls did him no favors. That his name kept popping up in controversy after controversy felt like more than random chance. The mistakes and the demeanor made him a household name, the perfect type of punching bag in the social media age.

Inside the game, Hernández was more of a punch line, the source of jokes over vitriol. It’s hard to be mad at an ump who drives around spring training in a vehicle with a license plate that says “YER OUT.”

This was a man who genuinely loved his craft, who just so happened to be dreadful at the craft.

As a teenager in Miami, Hernández played ball, but much preferred to umpire it. "I used to look forward to the game to end," Hernández told the Miami Herald in 1993, his first full season as an MLB ump. "I'd run into the bathroom and change into my umpire's clothes. I would always look forward to umpiring. Everyone always wanted to work with me [because] I never wanted to work the bases.”

“I wanted to be behind the plate, be in control."

After a lifetime of control, it’s all out of Hernández's hands now.