CINCINNATI (CN) – A Cuban-born baseball umpire claims in a federal discrimination lawsuit that Major League Baseball routinely denies promotions to Latino umpires under its chief baseball officer, who is accused of holding a grudge since his days as manager of the Yankees.
Angel Hernandez has been umpiring for Major League Baseball for nearly 24 years, according to a lawsuit he filed Monday in Cincinnati federal court against the league and its commissioner’s office.
His claims his evaluations for the years from 2001 to 2010 were outstanding, with the MLB recognizing his work by awarding him multiple postseason assignments from 2002 through 2010.
In 2011, Joe Torre was named MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, the lawsuit states. Torre’s current title is chief baseball officer and he oversees all of the league’s umpires.
According to the complaint, “Major League Baseball’s attitude toward Hernandez changed in 2011 when Joe Torre arrived.”
“Torre has a history of animosity towards Hernandez stemming from Torre’s time as manager of the New York Yankees,” the lawsuit states. “On May 4, 2001, after what Torre perceived to be an incorrect call by Hernandez, Torre took to the media to insult him and call into question his skill as a Major League umpire.”
Hernandez says that Torre’s lingering dislike of him “permeated Hernandez’s yearly evaluations,” particularly Torre’s statement that Hernandez “just wanted to be noticed over there.”
For example, in Hernandez’s mid-year evaluation in 2011, “he did not receive any exceeds standards ratings despite having received multiple for every year since 2002,” according to the lawsuit. (Emphasis in original.)
Hernandez claims the evaluation said he needed to work on his “communication skills with on field personnel, particularly because your approach has fostered a Club perception that you try to put yourself in the spotlight by seeing things other umpires do not.”
“This echoes the comments made by Torre in 2001—that, somehow, Hernandez is using his role as a Major League Baseball umpire to bring attention to himself at the expense of his proficiency as an umpire,” the lawsuit states. “Prior to 2011, Hernandez was never rebuked by the Office of the Commissioner for allegedly attempting to ‘put himself in the spotlight.’”
The complaint states these and similar comments were made on his evaluations despite reports from other observers that Hernandez was “a hard worker and a great example for other umpires” and “a very good umpire.”
Hernandez’s 2013 year-end evaluation allegedly said he “will likely battle the perception of the clubs and media that you are routinely attempting to put yourself in the spotlight for some time,” adding that, “as you know in this ‘perception is reality’-based business, any bump in your professional behavior will be magnified by the media and the fans.”
According to the lawsuit, since Torres arrived in 2011, only one non-white umpire has been assigned to the World Series.
“Hernandez is fully qualified to be assigned to a World Series. Hernandez has umpired the World Series before, has consistently received above average performance reviews, and has substantial experience in umpiring both regular season and postseason games,” the complaint states. “Despite these qualifications, Hernandez has watched as other, less-experienced, generally white umpires have been assigned to the World Series instead of him.”
Hernandez also claims there has been a lack of minority umpires promoted to crew chief since 2000, when the American League and the National League joined together.
“There has never been an African-American crew chief and, with the exception of one American born umpire of Latino descent, no other minority umpire (including African-Americans, Mexicans, Cubans and other Latinos) has been selected to be crew chief in the history of Major League Baseball,” the lawsuit says. “This is despite the fact that minority umpires—including Hernandez—have served as interim crew chiefs throughout portions of some of these seasons.” (Parentheses in original.)
Hernandez alleges he has more experience than nine of 10 white umpires that have been promoted since 2011, and says he has applied numerous times for the position of crew chief to no avail.
According to the complaint, Torre’s written explanation as to why Hernandez was not promoted “is completely belied by the nearly two decades worth of performance reviews praising Hernandez.”
Torre is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Hernandez accuses MLB of race, color and/or national origin discrimination.
“Instead of promoting Hernandez to the position of crew chief, Major League Baseball chose instead to promote individuals who were white and were not as qualified as Hernandez,” the lawsuit states. “Every day that Hernandez is not a crew chief, he is being discriminated against in many cities around the United States, including in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio.”
The umpire seeks full back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, and also asks that he be allowed to discuss MLB’s conduct publicly without penalty.
He is represented by Kevin Murphy with Murphy Landen Jones in Fort Mitchell, Ky.
The MLB commissioner’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.