A tool that every sports fan should Pass On

Our friend, Linda Murphy, wrote recently

Jeff Passan, a well-known hater of the St. Louis Cardinals, … .

She has a great point, one that I would like to explore for a moment. Why do some of the national media writers seem to write such terrible things about the St. Louis Cardinals ? Heck, in some cases, they just write terrible things, period. As is the case with the Jeff Passan piece that Ms. Murphy references. You can read Passan’s article here, and you might wish to do so before proceeding with this one.

It stars off with

There is an umpire problem in Major League Baseball, and it has nothing to do with blown calls or instant replay.

Taken out of context, I actually agree with part of this statement. One of the biggest problems with umpiring in the game today are the men in blue that seem to want to put themselves in the spotlight, rather than the game they are officiating.

Bob Davidson’s recent ejection of Tyler Colvin and Mike Quade is a perfect example. Colvin is one of the Cubs bright young prospects, but is having a very difficult time adjusting to the pitching in the big leagues. He was called out on strikes, a borderline pitch that he will swing at in a few years, and then reacted as many of us would in that situation. He might have even said a bad word, more directed at himself than at anybody else.

And what does Davidson do ? In true bully fashion, follows Colvin to the Cubs dugout looking for a confrontation. And when he doesn’t get it, he guarantees one when he ejects the young player so that he can get into a snit with his manager. Notice how Davidson didn’t try to pull that garbage with a veteran, who knew Davidson’s history (remember, it was Davidson that ejected a fan in Milwaukee). He had to show a young kid who is struggling that he is the boss of the playground.

For full disclosure, we don’t know what was actually said by Colvin or Davidson, but the video clearly shows a disappointed player that did nothing to show up or embarrass the umpire.

Now we have to bring Mr. Passan’s statement into context, and that means the next sentence.

It’s about a distinct lack of respect and baseball players’ cowardice in treating umpires as some subspecies, knowing the worst thing that can fly back at them is a suspension instead of a fist.

Where did that come from ? That’s dangerously close to the territory of Bobby Valentine pleading with Ryan Dempster to hit Matt Holliday in the ribs with a pitch because of an aggressive slide the day before.

Wrong a roo, Mr. Passan.

The problem is in fact bad calls, and there are far far far too many of them to cite. But I will give a glorious example.

May 26, 2010. Joe West vs Mark Buerhle. Buehrle is called for not one, but two balks in a game against the Indians. Buerhle says he did nothing different than on the previous pitch where no balk was called. Buehrle did exactly what Passan wants: shrugs his shoulders and wanted to move on. That’s when West ejected him from the game. Buerhle also said something like, “I can’t believe you did that”, but aimed at nobody in particular – just a external manifestation of his inner monologue. Another example of an umpire bullying a player, because they can.

Passan goes on.

MLB is going to lay the hammer Thursday on St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.

Really ? Because they did with Johnny Cueto when he repeatedly kicked Chris Carpenter and Jason LaRue with his spikes, giving the latter a concussion that ended his career. Or Jonathon Papelbon earlier in the season ? Heck, Juan Marichal’s tasmanian devil assault on Johnny Roseboro with a baseball bat only cost him 9 games plus a virtual house arrest for their series finale – but that was probably more for Marichal’s protection than additional punishment.

If anything, the league office is run by precedent, and that has already been established by Roberto Alomar. On September 27, 1996, the now Hall of Famer did in fact spit in the face of John Hirschbeck. There was no ambiguity in this one, just a bunch of spit. The league handed down their punishment, and it was 5 games. There, Mr. Passan, is your upper bound, if they think that Molina intentionally spat in the face of Bob Drake.

It’s one thing to yell at an ump. It’s another to lurch toward his face in anger, lose control of your maxillary function and emit droplets of spittle. Lying about it afterward – nobody, even at MLB, believes Molina’s story that the liquid Drake said twice hit him was sweat – only reinforces the point.

Nice use of the word maxillary, but I should point out that maxillary usually refers to the upper jaw, while the saliva ducts are in the lower jaw. Yes, I even research articles of snark, not just baseball’s history.

On a more serious point, Passan is paraphrasing Molina’s comments and twisting them in a way to suit the point he so desperately wants to make – and that is just wrong. You can hear Molina’s own words in this Fox Sports Midwest post-game segment. He said that he was sweaty and he was yelling. He also said that he would never spit in anybody’s face. What he did not say, at least in this interview segment, is that it was just sweat that got on Drake.

Need an example ? Ok, but this is really just an excuse to post one of my favorite photos of Jason Motte. You’re welcome!

I don’t think Jason Motte was really trying to spit on the pitchers mound, do you ? Imagine the horror if Molina had flung that in Bob Drake’s face. Ewwwwwwwww.

A bit later on…..

Still, while the worst umpires do grandstand and ignore the edict that the best umpire is an invisible umpire, none elevates any tête-à-tête to the level Molina did.

Really ? Joe West, Bob Davidson ? Heck, the entire umpiring crew at the recent Brewers/Cardinals series sure seemed to have a difficult time (blown calls at bases, inconsistent strike zones). Bob Davidson’s intimidation of Tyler Colvin is EXACTLY the same thing that Molina did here – pursue an issue well after the play was resolved.

Even more important is that blow ups like Molina’s don’t happen every night. While praising the umpires in their professionalism and restraint, how about a few words to the vast majority of baseball players that are the victims of bad calls and do nothing about it, being “invisible” themselves ? Or maybe even Molina himself for sitting behind the plate for that entire series, watching an ever changing strike zone ? Baseball players are human too.

If the umpires have lost the respect of the players, as Passan suggests, it is their own fault. Bad calls, umpires that have long passed their Peter Principle moment, and a disciplinary systems that has the transparency of a third world dictatorship all lead to an us-against-them mentality that does not help the game. At least we find some grounds for agreement in the last of these points.

I have nothing against a strongly opinionated piece of writing, completely taking one side of an issue. In the case of Passan’s recent work, he unfortunately took the wrong side. As is generally the case when he adds the word Cardinals to one of his articles.

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4 Responses to A tool that every sports fan should Pass On

  1. Jon Doble says:

    Respect is earned, not given. Bad umpires won’t have the respect of the players. However, good umpires do. Just nobody ever notices when they do because those types of stories aren’t considered news worthy.


    • Completely agree. And in defense of Passan’s point, a couple of bad apples do change your opinion about the rest of them, even though they are unblemished.


      • Jon Doble says:

        Thinking deeper about the points Passan makes later in the column regarding harsher punishments. I think harsher punishments are needed in the MLB in general. Ortiz and Gregg walked away earlier this year with 3 game suspensions for throwing punches at each other. 3 games!


      • Oh, I do too! But not for the reasons that Passan suggests. It has nothing to do with the player/umpire relationship. Suspensions are a league office thing, and generally have nothing to do with umpires.

        Marichal’s incident in the 60s was amid a big change in the MLB power base, and was more about toppling the applecart than any sort of punitive action. Now, the players union is so powerful, there is very little that will be done to fix the problem. Not being cynical, just realistic 🙂 The Cueto incident with Carpenter and LaRue would have been the perfect time for the league office to step up, but instead, they did a Carlos Beltran and looked at a called 3rd strike 🙂


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