Major-league umpire talks baseball, steroids


From pine tar to steroids, major-league umpire Tim McClelland has seen it. After graduating from umpire school and ascending the minor-league ladder, McClelland has been behind the plate during several historical games, such as the George Brett pine tar game, Sammy Sosa’s corked-bat game, and David Wells’ perfect game at Yankee Stadium.

Before speaking at the Iowa baseball Lead-Off Dinner on Tuesday, he talked with the local media about his experiences over the past 26 years and touched on the responsibilities of being a big-league blue, Alex Rodriguez and steroids, and the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

DI: What’s your philosophy for handling some of those tough situations that you’re presented with? You’ve had a couple of them.

McClelland: Well, what I want to do is take in the whole scenario. I don’t want to focus on one thing. I want to make sure I’m listening to other people.

If a manager were to come out, I want to make sure that I’m listening to him. He might bring up a good point — something I hadn’t thought of. But also, I want to be able to respond to his questions so that I get my point across to him. Hopefully, he’s listening to me. But most of all, I want to keep my head — keep my wits about me, not get caught up in the game, or the crowd, or the moment.

DI: You have seen what’s going on this week with Alex Rodriguez; what’s your take on the way that steroids have changed the perception of the game and the game itself over the last few years?

McClelland: It’s really too bad. I would like to see people just kind of get over it. I mean, it was part of that era. Where it started, the ’90s and the early 2000s — obviously in 2004, Major League Baseball instituted the ban on steroids — but for maybe the previous 15 years, you just have to realize there were a lot of people taking steroids.

I had a catcher tell me, this was back in 2004, he said, We’ve got to get off steroids. We peons need to get off steroids because we can’t afford them. He said, These guys that make the big money because they can put up the big numbers can get the synthetic steroids, and they can stay on them.

That’s not fair.

They used it to make themselves better, and I can’t fault a player for doing that. It might have been illegal, but if you chastised everybody who was doing something illegal in the game, there wouldn’t be anybody playing the game. It was not against the rules of baseball, so I can’t fault a player for trying to make himself better. And in that era, everybody was using them.

DI: You talked about a little bit about steroids and the new innovations that are going on, like instant replay. What about the World Baseball Classic as far as umpiring?

McClelland: This year, major-league umpires will work it. They asked for volunteers, guys who wanted to work it. I didn’t volunteer. I use spring training as kind of a fun time. My family comes out. It’s right around their spring break, so my family comes down. We make it a little vacation.
But they will have major-league umpires. They didn’t for the first one. There was a disagreement between Major League Baseball and our union at the time. I know Eric Cooper, who is another umpire from West Des Moines, is excited about doing it. He’s going down to Puerto Rico.
I think it’ll be a more enjoyable game for the fans and the players to have major-league umpires. I think the game will run more smoothly. Hopefully, these players will realize these are major-league umpires, and they can’t get away with some of the things they get away with in their country.

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