Umpires provide Great Entertainment Value to Baseball


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It is something I always take a gander at before Tampa Bay Rays games. When they announce the Umpires for that night, I always look and see if we have a rotation on the field that might yield a few…Well, interesting moments. We all know what I am talking about here. When Joe West and his crew, which includes the Rays own Umpire devil Angel Hernandez comes to town, you know you will see a boosted game and every intention to keep the game under 3 hours. When C D Buckner and company hit the Trop., you do not see any blue metal chairs down in the Rays Bullpen area.

Each crew has its own professional personality, and their own special way of calling a series or even a game. And that is one of the thing that keep it exciting. Personally I truly believe that fans want to argue with something in every game, and usually the person that gets the blunt of that angst and anger is the Umpires. And how many people really think about that set of individuals? I had a brief discussion with a retire Umpire last night before the Rays game, and he brought up a few very interesting points.

” Baseball is the only sport where the officials let you come out on the field to argue a call. There is no rule anywhere in the Major League Baseball rulebook that lets you do that action, but it is done anyways”.

This is an interesting point. There is no revision, rule or even a mention of team’s or their Manager’s being able to come out onto the field to discuss or argue a called action within the scope of the game. It seems as though the Umpires have let the Managers come out and hash things out with them as a bit of a professional courtesy. In most American sports, the minute you step onto the field, even in football, you can be subject immediately to a penalty, an expulsion or worse, left there open for a blindside hit.

The fact that the Umpire lets players and Managers even discuss the ruling itself is a bit…Well, democratic of them, but it does add a nice mix to the game to have an open dialogue. But when was the last time you saw a Umpire and a Manager argue and the call was reversed. If you said never, then you are on the right track. By letting the Manager come out of the dugout on occasion, you get an added flair to the game and can usually incite the crowd a bit off their hands and get emotionally charged into the game again. Plus there is the added visual giggle of possibly seeing the Umpire give the “heave ho” sign to the Manager and then the fun really begins.

And there are three old masters of the art of getting thrown out, and two of them are calling it quits at the end of 2010. Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Piniella and Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox are two of the best Managers to go toe-to-toe with the men in blue. Even if they do not have a leg to stand on in an argument, these two will go out there and maybe recite the phone book in order to get their opinion out there for everyone to hear and see. Sure we have all seen the wild antics that Manager have resorted to after getting tossed from a game, but Piniella and Cox have a classic style that will be missed next season.

But we also got to see another one of the masters on Monday night as Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland went out to protest an obvious missed call by Second Base Umpire Marty Foster. Leyland did not have time to see the television instant replay, but he immediately knew that Upton was out by a high tag going into second base, and made sure Foster knew of his opinion. The only problem is that Leyland did not take out all the sunflower seeds within his mouth before barking at Foster, and you can see on the video replays Foster wiping his black shirt of a sunflower husk and immediately ejecting Leyland for the action.

Mike Carlson/AP

The outrage that followed was fueled not by the missed Upton call, but by the fact that Foster would have to report Leyland for the action of “spitting on him” even if it was not an intentional action. In the heat of the argument, there is not time to decipher an immediate action, but the blatant action of even having a projectile coming out of your mouth is grounds to be run by the Umpire.

“Do you let someone spit on you? Think about it, if someone was to spit, eject or even throw something at you, don’t you also go on the offensive?”

What is surprising by the actions of Leyland is that he is a key member of the Major League Baseball’s committee on On-Field Matters that was established to help shape the game on the field. So it was interesting that he even stepped onto the turf with a few sparse seeds still lodged in his mouth, but you have to think his intention was not to fling a flying projectile like a sunflower seed at the face of chest of Foster. But eh following statement by Leyland after Monday night game shows he acknowledges that something might have landed on Foster’s black shirt:

Now, did some of the sunflower seeds spray on his shirt? Yes, they did, without any question. [But] I don’t even spit on the ground. But I’m not going to take that. I’m tired of protecting umpires, tired of not being able to say anything. I’m defending myself. If they want to kick me out, that’s fine, I don’t care about that, because [seeds] sprayed on his shirt. But when you start accusing somebody of deliberately doing something, you better be careful.

For his actions, Leyland received a one game suspension that he served out on Wednesday night and will possibly have a small fine to contribute to the cause. But even if Leyland sat in the Visitor’s Clubhouse during that night’s game, his combatant in this volatile exchange was no longer in Tropicana Field. For some reason, Foster, who should have rotated to be behind Home Plate on Wednesday night was not on the field at all, and definitely not in the building. This makes me wonder if Major League Baseball or the Major League Baseball Umpires Association might have removed Foster from the Umpiring crew for this one instance to facilitate no further actions or provide an ounce of diversion with the rest of this Rays and Tigers series.

This is one of the first times I have seen an Umpire disappear in the middle of his crew doing a series at Tropicana Field, but it could have happened before without most of us even noticing it at all. But it is hard to argue with the fact that the MLB Umpires have become a aspect of the game now. They can inject their opinions (like Angel Hernandez), have careers outside of baseball that bring popularity to them (like Joe West) or even remain constant reminder that the game is not perfect, even with Instant Replay options.

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No matter what your opinions are about Umpires and the game of baseball, they are the keepers of the rules of the game and provide a service that can not be measured in runs and hits. And because they are human, there are mistakes, misguided actions and un resolved conclusions we scratch our heads about during every game. But without them, the game would be less entertaining, have no drama and would mostly resemble a tennis match.

Last night we lost a bit of that entertainment value with both Leyland and Foster invisible to the fans and players at Tropicana Field. But there was still the hidden drama that at any moment, one of the Managers would again pop out of the dugout and argue something as simple as balls and strikes. Ahhh, what a great game!

Note: The Umpire quoted in this blog post was an active member of the MLBUA for over twenty years and also  supervised Umpire crews in his career. I have left his name off the post to keep him invisible to the game. But his views are accurate and profound, and a pleasure to hear him tell stories of his war between the foul lines.

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