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What's a fill-in ump doing at first base?

I've been covering Bisons game off and on for 23 years and on a full-time basis since 1992. From time to time, an umpire has a family situation, an illness, some time off coming or gets the call to the major leagues and the crew needs a substitute so there's still three men are working the game. You don't see guys promoted from Double-A. You usually get a top local amateur working for a night or two. They work third base and largely stay out of the way.

I've never seen one in the middle of things as poor Wally Bissett was Wednesday night in Coca-Cola Field.

Bissett is a highly respected, veteran umpire from Buffalo who does college ball as well as local amateur contests. But he blew two calls at first base on the tail end of double plays, one that cost the Herd a first-inning run in a game it would eventually lose in 10 innings to Pawtucket, 8-3.

Bissett got impatient with Herd manager Ken Oberkfell in the ninth and quickly tossed the Buffalo skipper after calling Pawtucket's Jeremy Hermida safe at first. He had called Herd OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis out in the first, denying the game's first run. Replays showed he blew both calls. Unless Oberkfell said the magic word, Bissett ran him way too quickly.

Oberkfell was diplomatic after the game. He was more upset with reliever Sean Green's pair of 10th-inning walks. I was always under the impression fill-ins were never supposed to work first or the plate. So was Oberkfell. So too was Buffalo General Manager Mike Buczkowski. IL president Randy Mobley can expect some phone calls from them today (he might get one from me too).

"I always thought they were just supposed to be at third but it's one of those things I guess," Oberkfell said. "I can promise I'll find out why he was at first base in a crucial game. Nothing against Wally but we're battling for a playoff spot. For me to have a substitute umpire at first base or home plate is something I don't feel should happen."

Pawtucket manager Torey Lovullo, the ex-Bison player and skipper, agreed with Oberkfell.

"You should call Randy and if you do, you have my support," Lovullo said. "We had episodes when we went into Columbus where we were embarrassed by the umpiring behind home plate that cost us in a couple of key situations. I'm not really commenting on what went on out here but I think there's a place and time for an umpire to be out at a base but they really shouldn't be at first or behind the plate."

This kind of stuff should not happen. It's Triple-A baseball. If you use fill-in umpires -- a practice I hate in the first place -- they should never be anywhere but third base. 

(It should be noted that the umpires room is off-limits to reporters so I could not speak to Bissett after the game).

---Mike Harrington


Bisons | International League | Red Sox
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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |