Everyone knew Ángel Hernández’s name. That was the problem.

<p>In March 2019, during an innocuous spring training game, A.J. Hinch, then the manager of the Houston Astros, thought a couple of egregious ball-strike calls from home plate umpire Ángel Hernández had cost his pitcher an efficient inning, forcing him into more work. Between innings, Hinch chatted with Hernández, continuing a conversation that Hinch said began during a game a week or so earlier.</p> <p>“I brought him over and had a calm conversation with him and said, ‘We have technology to help you get better,’ that these pitches are strikes,” Hinch told reporters that day. “And he had a kind of arrogant attitude about it and didn’t want to hear it.”</p> <p>The next inning began, and Hernández called what appeared to be a ball for a Houston hitter a strike, “probably to spite me,” Hinch said, “and off we go.”</p> <p>Hinch was ejected. The show that day wasn’t about the players. It was about Hernández.</p> <p>“The fact you want to throw me out in a spring training game is pretty ridiculous,” Hinch said. “He’s known for overreaction a little bit. … As it escalated, he said some condescending things that are inappropriate. Unprofessional.”</p> <p>Hernández’s retirement this week is ostensibly about one (mostly lousy) umpire - one who unsuccessfully sued Major League Baseball for racial discrimination in determining postseason assignments and promotions. But it really is the end of an era.</p> <p>The baseball umpire - or the basketball referee or the football official - as a character with foibles, quirks and flaws, especially flaws, is nearly extinct. Technology can correct what humans get wrong, and its role in governing the way games are played is only going to increase. Automated ball-strike calls are already in use in the minors, and they’ll be in the majors at some point. Good umpiring might soon be a thing of the past, but that’s okay because bad umpiring would be, too.</p> <p>We no longer live in a world in which the only people who know a call is bad are the people making it. Calls can be and are overturned, and the result - more often than not - is that justice is served. Don Denkinger could be a goat in the 1985 World Series. There’s no real way to create Don Denkinger in 2024.</p> <p>(To those who can’t remember or weren’t born yet: Denkinger was the first base umpire in Game 6 of that series between the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, who led the series 3-2 and the game 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Denkinger called Royals pinch hitter Jorge Orta safe at first - safe, when he was obviously out, which replay would have corrected - and Kansas City went on to come back that night, then win the title in Game 7.)</p> <p>So one of the inherent traits that should be valuable in a modern official is exactly what Hernández failed to show in that exchange with Hinch, not to mention in so many instances across his three-decade career: humility. The evidence of when you’re right and when you’re wrong is almost always attainable. The attitude, therefore, has to change. A call made with conviction before there was instant replay - never mind high-definition replay from all angles - was once a sign of officiating strength. Now, officials have to allow for the possibility that their emphatic calls will be proved wrong. They have to wear it, and there’s really no shame in that because we all make mistakes.</p> <p>This isn’t really about the mistakes Hernández made, though there were many, more than a few egregious. It’s about the attitude he had when he made them. Go back to Hinch in that spring training game five years ago.</p> <p>“He doesn’t want to hear it,” Hinch said. “And you know what? This isn’t about umpires, because umpires are really good at having a relationship with feedback and stuff like that. So he’s in charge: Home plate umpire, you argue balls and strikes, you get thrown out. I get it.</p> <p>“But we all strive to get better. Managers try to get better. Players try to get better. Umpires should want to get better. We’ve got technology. Certainly can give feedback whenever - and he should want it.”</p> <p>He didn’t, and he doesn’t, and now at 62, he’s retiring.</p> <p>What Hernández lacked in that moment - in so many moments - is a key part of modern officiating: accountability and even some contrition. The early rounds of the NBA playoffs were marked by seemingly nightly missed calls. One notable instance: a New York Knicks pass, tipped in the final minute of a tie game by an Indiana Pacers player, that officials ruled a kicked ball. Instead of a Pacers steal, the Knicks retained possession - and won.</p> <p>Afterward, the officials weren’t arrogant. They admitted their error.</p> <p>“On the floor, we felt that would be a kicked ball violation,” crew chief Zach Zarba said. “Postgame review did show that it hit the defender’s hand, which would be legal.”</p> <p>Sure, there was some fury in Indiana about an obvious blown call. But Zarba and his crew, who owned up to their mistake, weren’t really the villains. The major takeaway: Why could the Pacers not challenge, and what makes that a non-reviewable play? That’s a question for the NBA rules committee, not the refs on the floor.</p> <p>So much of what technology brings takes the person making the call out of the controversy. That it takes the personality out of officiating could be considered a loss but not as significant as failing to right obvious wrongs. Yes, replay rulings can be - or just <i>are</i> - tedious, and they interrupt the flow of a game. But a generation later, you would rather a call be slow but right than instantaneous but etched in the memory of an entire fan base because it was wrong. (Hello, 1985 Cardinals fans.)</p> <p>Hernández is retiring in the midst of the season because, he said in a statement, “I want to spend more time with my family.” He also has battled back issues, and umpiring for 33 years makes his career complete.</p> <p>There’s not likely to be another one like him. Not because he was bad at his job, which he more than occasionally was. But because he was dug in on his convictions, whatever their merits, a flat-earther with a face mask and a chest protector. Modern officiating won’t have characters like that in the future, a future in which the conversation among players, coaches, referees and leagues will be about getting more calls right more of the time - and checking the attitude at the ballpark door.</p> <p>Every baseball fan knew Ángel Hernández’s name and his rep. In the near future, officials who make rulings that determine the outcomes of games won’t be famous - which is how it should be.</p>