Gunfight at the Rogers Centre Corral
AP/The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese
Sports columnists around the country will tell you the perfect Major League Baseball game is one where the Umpires’ are completely invisible, and every play goes along like on an organized plan with no need for interpretation, or controversy during the games nine innings of play. I hate to admit it, but that same serene scenario might be as rare as the 20 Perfect Games that have been thrown in Major League Baseball.
I always thought growing up as a kid learning the rules of the game of baseball was that the Umpires were on the field to help guide us and teach us the rules, not become a part of a unfolding fabric of the game. For some reason, today’s mega-personality Major League Umpires seem to be developing their own agendas and meshing them into the convoluted mixture of the game.
With the “hurry up” mentality expressed by today’s Umpire Crews, you expect to see the White Rabbit behind Home Palte with a huge stop watch basically turning the game their direction by throwing their own interpretations and nuances towards every facet of the rule book.
And one of last night’s Umpires has been center stage this season in the “hurry up” offensive move throughout the Major League Baseball system. Seasoned MLB Umpire Joe West has been more than vocal, even complaining after a Red Sox versus New York Yankee game about the molasses pace of the game right now. Anyone within the American League East knows that Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon uses the entire time allotted for every one of his pitches to his advantage, and with that goes the impending song and dance of Papelbon stepping off the rubber, the Boston catchers’ going out to the mound, or the opposing hitter asking for a “time out” right before a pitcher get set in his wind-up.
West had been more than vocally adamant about his displeasure for this routine game action dragging the last several innings of the game to a snail’s crawl. It was kind of funny (strange) to me last night during the Rays and Jays game when the battle betwwen the plate and mound became a bit testy and slowed to a well htought out chess match. The Rays had begun to get the upper hand on their opponent’s closer, then bang! In steps a supposibly conscientious observer, the Umpire.
The Umpire again made his presence known at centerstage when Home Plate Umpire Angel Hernandez decided to look the other way and focus elsewhere when Rays slugger Carlos Pena treid to ask for time during a strategic 3 ball ,2 strike count. Hernandez decided to not voice, hand signal or even flinch as he let Jay closer Kevin Gregg throw a perfect strike right down the middle as Pena quickly had to try and readjust after taking his lead hand off his bat and stepped instantly towards the spinning sphere. The pitch sailed easily into Jays catcher John Buck’s glove and Hernandez wihtout thought rung Pena up on a third called strike.
Instantly Pena began to question the action, or non action by Hernandez, but he was talking to a concrete wall at that point. Quickly Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to furiously to work on Hernandez by questioing his interpretation of the “time out” request by Pena and his subsequential rant was not for those under 17 years of age to lip read. With Moddon’s opinion well set into Hernandez’s mind, Maddon was instanyl ejected from the game by Hernandez, Maddon still hot under his Rays collar, decided to vent some more frustration since he was already going to have to pay MLB a significant fine for his previous rant with Hernandez.
He instantly strutted up the Third Base line to confront the Umpire Crew Chief ”Cowboy” Joe West and the Battle at the RC corral was off and running at that point. Maddon made sure to push and shove his own interpretation far down West’s throat, and Maddon adamantly let West know the recent MLB Umpires ”hurry up offense” move was all West’s fault and made more than sure West knew his entire opinion on the matter. There are quite a few MLB Managers, including a duo within the American League East( New York, Boston) that wish they could have done the same themselves to West last night.
AP/The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese
It is great when a baseball game can remain clean and unfolds without the Umpires putting their “two-cents” into the mix. What really got my goat was not what unfolded on the turf during the ninth inning last night in Toronto. It was the impromptu vocal aftermath in the Umpire’s Room after the game when West made sure to throw his own spin on the whole episode. Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times got a chance to sit down and have a soda and some grub with the “Cowboy” and his crew following last night shootout. It is unheard of that an Umpire will provoke an episode like this outside the realms of the game, but West is an old style gunslinger who sometimes seems above the rule book.
West voiced his opinion that he supported Hernandez’s actions, and even quoted the specific rule in the MLB Rule book for all of us out in Leftfield barristers to intrepret ourselves. West contended that the Jays closer (Gregg) had begun his delivery, so under MLB Rule 6.02 , the timeout should not have been awarded since the rule protects the pitchers’ on the rubber who have already begun their delivery.
But post game replays on FSNFlorida of the play in question showed that Gregg was not yet beginnig his “set position” on the mound.
That is a clear sign that Hernandez missed the call here, but it was at his own discretion at that moment to grant Pena the initial”timeout”. The uninterpreted grey area here is huge because it is up to individual Umpire’s personal interpretation of the rule and its boundaries, which should be solidified in black and white with more clarification, but multiple shades of grey were bountiful last night.
West told the St Petersburg Times, “You can not ask for a timeout once the pitcher is coming to a set position, or once a pitcher would be in jeopardy of hurting himself“.
West made sure to point out that the MLB does provide clubhouse signage to each of the 30 MLB teams explaining the rules in great length and the “official” MLB interpretation of these rules. On a side note, I have seen a poster of these rules, and they are printed both in Spanish and English to keep a possible language confrontation to a minimal. West went on to tell the St Pete Times:
“The rule is two-fold- One is to protect the pitcher from starting his delivery, and then having to stop because the hitter stepped out. That is why we do not let hitters cause balks. It’s all intertwined with the protocol of the pitcher and the hitter and the Umpire. And the hitters all know, you ask for time and have to be granted time or it’s not out. They do not get to call time, the Umpire calls time.”
As Topkin sat there in their usually “off limits” Umpires sanctuary as West held court, Hernandez did the right thing by not stirring the pot or adding any additonal to the spice to the mix and I gained a smidgeon of respect for him last night as he added a bland, but honest opinion to the St Pete Times :
This will eventually evolve into another Joe West involved gunfight either won or lost according to your sense of fair play and gamesmanship. The Rays ended up overcoming the ruling and winning the battle, but could Maddon have stirred up a hornet’s nest that could plague his squad in tonight’s finale against the Blue Jays. My opinion is that the MLB Umpires are the true providers and protector of the rules of the game of baseball. I understand their wide interpretations and even their bending of set guidelines at time with both the strike zone and some “in-the-neighborhood” calls on the field.
In the end, these bad judgment calls are further diluting the games and extending its time by the arguments and ejections following a confusion over the rulings. But the Umpires should never be a visual part on these contests. Umpire crews should do everything in thier power to remain invisible and not be made an intricate part of the game. I like that West has fire in his big old belly for the rules of game, and that Hernandez made sure to vocalize to the St Pete Times that he doesn’t have to explain his action to them, but basically only to his own superiors.
Baseball games should be decided by the players on the field and not those croaching along the foul lines or behind the plate. It is great that the game has such colorful characters within its ranks, but those same characters should not be anointed protectors of rules of the game, all dressed up in their dark blue uniforms. They should be ghosts…invisible until needed.