Forget that the Giants didn't hit for 8 innings. Forget that Freddy Sanchez really should have been able to hit something better than that weak grounder. Forget that they had a chance to tie the game in the 10th inning. This game today was won, and then taken away, by umpire Phil Cuzzi. But it wasn't just Cuzzi's blown call at home that put him in the spotlight today. Throughout the game, both benches were not happy with the strike zone. After a couple close pitches were not called the Mets' way in the bottom of the 9th, Cuzzi suddenly, and bizzarely, took off his mask and started screaming at God-knows-who. After the Ishikawa debacle, Aubrey Huff hit a fair ball that was called foul by the third base ump, and Cuzzi saw no need to overturn it. His awful strike zone continued into the 10th inning, against both Brian Wilson and K-Rod. Clearly this is a man who does not like his judgment to be questioned. Yet throughout Cuzzi's umpiring career, his ability and judgment has been questioned often. Phil was a minor league umpire from '91 to '93, until he was fired. Yes, you heard right: Cuzzi was fired as a minor league ump.
How did he make it to The Show? In 1996, Phil the ump was Phil the bartender, working at the Short Hills Hilton near Philadelphia. It was there that he came across Leonard Coleman, then supervisor of the National League. Somehow, Phil was able to get the supervisor to let him back into minor league umpiring. Why did Coleman do this? Had he gone crazy? Perhaps he was wearing a burgundy coat, and would eventually attempt to murder his wife and child with an axe (Coleman was quoted as saying to Cuzzi: "Phil, you're the best goddamn umpire from here to Portland, Maine, or Portland, Oregon for that matter").
Phil discusses his hopes for a second chance with Leonard Coleman.
When Phil finally made it to the Bigs in 1999, what began was a long stretch of confrontations with managers and controversial calls. Here are some notables:
June 25, 2010: Phil rings up James Loney of the Dodgers, ending the game, the culmination of a long night of questionable strike calls. As Loney walks back to the dugout, Cuzzi walks with him, and when the exchange gets heated, Cuzzi throws out Loney. That's right, he threw a guy out when the game was ALREADY OVER. Not to mention he did the worst thing an umpire can do, which is engage a player or coach in argument, baiting them into getting thrown out.
August 8, 2007: Cuzzi once again showed his tendency to engage managers, when he jawed with Ozzie Guillen till Guillen came out of the dugout and was thrown out. Guillen was quoted as saying: "From 1985 to now, I don't see any umpire disrespect players and managers the way that guy does".
Game 4, 2005 NLCS: Jim Edmonds was up in the 8th inning with the tying run on base. With the count 3-1, Edmonds took a pitch and started toward first, only for Cuzzi to call it a strike. When Edmonds turned around to ask where the pitch was, Cuzzi tossed him. The Cardinals would lose the game and the series.
2003: In his 2nd to last game of the season, Roy Halladay was pitching for a Cy Young and a team record 22nd win. When Halladay threw a pitch inside to Rocco Baldelli, Phil decided it was intentional, and threw Halladay out of the game, a shocking move based on the circumstances. No one, including Baldelli, thought Halladay was trying to hit him.
Game 2, 2009 ALDS: Ah, Phil's masterpiece, his 9th symphony, his Hamlet. In a tied game in the 9th inning, Joe Mauer hit a ball down the left field line, which hit off Melky Cabrera's glove in fair territory and went into the stands. Phil was the left field umpire, and despite being no more than 20 ft. away, looking right at the play, he called the ball foul. The call was so easy, it has been cited since as a great example of the need for instant replay in baseball. Perhaps baseball should just fire Phil Cuzzi.