Check out what people in the game think:
By Sean McAdam
Special to ESPN.com
For decades, new umpires were promoted to the major-league level at a trickle.
"I once had an American League official tell me,'' said one baseball executive, "that there were only two jobs you had for life -- Supreme Court Justice and major-league umpire.''
But Richie Phillips' poorly conceived labor strategy in the late 1990s -- unwittingly, of course -- changed all that.
After years of slow, gradual assimilation, a huge turnover has taken place and changed the look, the attitude and the experience level of big-league umps. At the start of this year, exactly 40 percent of umpires assigned full-time to the major leagues had five years or less of experience.
Naturally, that degree of change has itself produced change. For one thing, it has bred unfamiliarity.
"It's hard to keep all the news guys straight,'' said one veteran player. "I used to know them all. Now, it seems like every series or two, there's a guy I barely recognize.''
The turnover has had another side consequence. When the umpire's union was effectively broken, it had the effect of humbling the veteran umpires. No longer unaccountable, they became less confrontational with players and displayed more hustle.
The last few years, there's been a degree of backsliding.
"You see some guys getting back into those bad habits,'' acknowledges one club official. "But for the most part, I think they're better now than they were. They're more likely to walk away from a confrontation, keep themselves in better shape and hustle to get into position to make the right call.''
We surveyed people across the game -- players, coaches, managers, scouts and front-office executives -- to get a reading on the current crop. Here are the findings:
SHORTEST FUSE: Joe West, now in his 27th year and sixth in seniority, was the runaway, um, winner in this category. Almost every respondent mentioned his name here, though there were occasional submissions for others.
"He looks for trouble,'' said one coach.
"He doesn't want to take any (grief) from anybody,'' added a player.
Added one scout: "Joe initiates more confrontations than he avoids. That's not a good sign.''
Others mentioned include Andy Fletcher, John Hirschbeck and Greg Gibson.
BEST TEMPERAMENT: This category got the most varied responses, proving that an easygoing nature is in the eye of the beholder.
Tim McClelland, 11th in seniority, now in his 23rd season, got a number of mentions here.
"He's always the same,'' one manager said. "He doesn't let the game speed on him.''
"McClelland is very patient,'' added a GM. "He just runs the game the right way.''
"You can have a reasonable discussion with him,'' said one player.
Others mentioned include Jim Joyce, Terry Craft, Ed Rapuano and Randy Marsh.
MOST CONSISTENT STRIKE ZONE: McClelland was once again the most popular response, though by a lesser margin that in other categories.
"I'd say McClelland,'' a scout said. "I just wish he didn't take so long to make the call.''
McClelland has a slow strike signal, which makes him the bane of radio and TV broadcasters everywhere.
"He's late,'' agreed a player, "but he is consistent.''
Tim Tschida also received multiple votes. "Whatever it may be,'' said a coach, "it's the same for that whole game. That's all you can ask.''
Others mentioned include Ed Rapuano, Jim Reynolds, Doug Eddings and John Hirschbeck, of whose strike zone one player said: "It's big; But hey, this is a pitcher talking!''
MOST RESPECTED: Once more, McClelland was the clear-cut choice. Rare was the respondent who didn't at least mention his name when this category came up.
"He commands respect,'' a scout said. "The way he carries himself, the way he treats people, the way he approaches the job. I think he's our best.''
"He doesn't try to make himself the show,'' a player added. "He just wants to get the call right.''
Running second in this category was Tim Tschida.
"As long as you don't show him up, he'll work with you,'' a manager offered. "He's been doing this for a long time.''
Others mentioned include Rapuano, Tim Welke and Brian Runge.
BEST THIRD-STRIKE CALL: Without question, this got the most varied responses.
A number of those questioned lamented the retirement of Jim McKean -- now a supervisor -- who used to punch the air with the rhythmic precision of a Larry Holmes' jab.
Jim Joyce and Tschida got multiple mentions and some took the opportunity to tweak the tardy McClelland. "Does he have one?'' cracked one coach.
Joked one catcher: "You're asking the wrong guy. All that stuff happens behind my back.''
Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.