Umpires Still Behaving Badly
Unwarranted ejections, vitriolic exchanges, intentionally botched calls, and a poor understanding of the rulebook. Is this what we’ve come to expect from Major League Umpires? Over the past couple of weeks, Big Blue has thrust itself into the spotlight through the actions of a few umps, who have decided that they are bigger than the game.
This year’s controversy began one day in early May with a simple war of words between last year’s AL CY Young Winner, David Price, and the crew chief that day in Kansas City- Tom Hallion. No big deal, right? umps and pitchers have always had a testy relationship, and Price is notoriously surly. Both the players involved and the umpire were fined by the MLB for their misconduct and nothing else came of it.
Then last Sunday, Bryce Harper was ejected for allegedly “showing up” third base umpire John Hirschbeck after a close third strike call on a check swing. We knew that players didn’t appreciate Harper’s brash play at such a young age (MLB debut at 19 last year), as evident by Cole Hamels’ decision to intentionally plunk the phenom last season, but this encounter showed that umpires also possess a singular disdain for the kid. Judge for yourself, did Harper’s actions truly warrant an ejection?
Things went down a certain way from the umpire’s perspective. “I was actually just being nice.” Hirschbeck told the Washington Post afterward, “Even the hands up in the air is showing me up, to me. I could have ejected him right then. I was nice enough to leave him in the game…” However, there is nothing nice about his conduct. It’s clearly provocative, unbecoming, and belies his true intention- to put that “young buck” in his place. If the shoe were on the other foot, and Harper was the umpire, is there any doubt that he would ejected Hirschbeck for his demonstrative body language?
Talented young players almost never receive the benefit of the doubt. This incident is reminiscent of another fiasco that took place in May of 2012, when Jays’ rookie Brett Lawrie was called out on a couple of erroneous strike calls, and slammed his helmet off the home plate umpire in frustration.
This type of thing has been going on for over a hundred years. It’s baseball’s version of hazing, and as fans, we can accept these occurrences with that disclaimer. Yet what we can’t accept, is the way Angel Hernandez instructed his crew to make the wrong call in the Indians-Athletics game the other night.
I’m sure most of you have seen the tape by now, as the A’s apparent game-tying home run was reviewed, and not overturned despite clear visual evidence that it cleared the fence. Everyone in the stadium, everyone watching the same replay on TV, and even the committee led by the MLB’s Executive V.P. Joe Torre, believed that there was enough indisputable evidence to overturn the (incorrect) ruling of a double, but somehow three umpires did not.
Baseball guru Peter Gammons, who has seen it all in his nearly 45 years as a beat reporter, has suggested that the only reason Hernandez would blatantly disregard the evidence would be to protest the use of instant replay in such instances. This is not the first time that this particular ump has tried to overshadow the action. Any official who has a lengthy section labeled “controversy” on their wikipedia page, has some obvious problems remaining objective and unseen.
The fact that Fieldin Culbreth’s crew neglected to penalize the Astros for making two pitching changes without a pitch being thrown two days later only serves to further undermine the integrity of MLB Umpires. While this crew was disciplined and fined for their misapplication of the rulebook, Hernandez and Hirschbeck have not been penalized for their actions. Until Major League Baseball demonstrates their intolerance for such brazen showmanship by their umpires, it seems that nothing will stop Big Blue from picking on whomever or protesting whatever they please.