Let’s go ahead and start with the backstory behind this post.  In a game between the Yankees and Nationals on Wednesday, May 20th, Bryce Harper was at bat.  A breaking pitch came in at the low end of the zone, and broke further down, but was called a strike.  This wasn’t to Harper’s liking, and he did the athlete thing and shake his head and mutter things under his breath.  As he stepped back into the box, the home plate umpire stopped the game in order to tell manager Matt Williams to pipe down his jabber from the dugout.  After they had exchanged a few words, Harper was told to get back in the box.  Harper balked at this, as he was in the box prior to the exchange between Williams and the man in blue. He gave the umpire some lip, and was tossed.  Williams was tossed too, in outrage.

So this is bad for Baseball, I’d say.  Bryce Harper may the best player on the planet right now, and him getting tossed out of the game and replaced with somebody inferior isn’t good.  Any time grown men argue over something that isn’t all that evident to the fans at home, it also isn’t good.  People become disinterested with the product, even if the whole ordeal makes headlines.  This got me wondering–why does Baseball even have ejections?  No other American sport comes close to the ejection rate that Baseball does, even when those sports are way more intense and violent.  So what benefit do ejections serve?

Let’s start with the obvious; some ejections are totally necessary.  If a player or coach gets so belligerent that they become violent, they’re gone.  There’s a famous story of Babe Ruth once becoming so angry at the Home Plate Umpire that he had to be physically restrained.  There’s no place for that.  Also, if a player is actively cheating, he needs to be ejected.  Anyone spitting on the ball or corking their bat should be tossed, fined, drawn, quartered, and forced to consume stale Baseball Card Gum.  I think those are the two big ones.  Outside of that, though, we get to the wiggle room.  Here are what I would say are the other, less definitive, reasons:

1) To maintain order.  There are just four umpires amidst nearly a hundred players, coaches, and staff, plus tens of thousands of fans.  Umpires are not only in charge of deciding safe and out, but they also have to keep the game going at a decent pace and keep the game moving along swimmingly.  People getting uppity not only slows down the game, but threatens to devolve into something even worse.  Players will sometimes throw fits all on their own, so emotions need to be kept in check or else literal fights could occur.  If things got really gnarly, we could even see riots, like in European Soccer.  If a few bad apples have to be tossed for the sake of keeping everything in order, then so be it.

2) To maintain respectability.  Look, this isn’t Hockey we’re talking about.  Baseball is America’s game.  There are no tackles, no fighting, punching, hitting, slashing, biting, or whatever.  To quote George Carlin, “Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness. Baseball has the sacrifice.”  We can’t have players just flying off the handle and shouting; there’s a game to be played.  When people get into childish shouting matches, it’s bad for Baseball, as we’ve already established.  If there weren’t ejections, then even more people would be having these stupid little arguments, so ejections are the lesser of two evils.

So what’s the problem here?  The problem is that whenever someone is ejected either for the case of order or respectability, it’s not a universally accepted justification.  Any time you have to eject a player from the game and replace him with somebody not as good, it’s bad.  When you have to eject said player for a reason that’s not immediately obvious, it’s even worse.  The vast majority of the blame in situations like this gets placed on the umpire.  Pick your favorite reason; umpire is making himself the show, umpire lost his cool, umpire has a quick trigger, etc.  Is there something that could possibly alleviate these concerns?  I believe there is.

I see the umpire as filling three roles on the baseball field; Judge, Jury, and Bailiff.  The Jury determines whether or not a crime has been committed, the Judge presides over the proceedings and doles out punishment, and the Bailiff maintains order within the game and gives separation between the parties.  Let’s separate these roles into three people.  Let’s keep the umpires as they are; four people calling balls, strikes, safe, and out.  Let’s then add two new roles on the game; Head Judge and Mediator. The Head Judge would be in charge of keeping the game moving, and issuing penalties as needed.  They would eject cheaters and violent players, listen to complaints from managers and relay any legitimate concerns from the teams to the umpires, and preside over the game’s pace.  The Mediator would help keep order–they would ensure that managers who are getting a bit hot don’t rail on for five minutes at a time and distract the umpire from the game.  They’d help keep tensions low and the focus on the game at play.

What purpose would this serve?  It’d keep the umpires from having to play so many roles that they bleed into each other unnecessarily.  When umpires have to hear it from managers and players all the time, it may be influencing their calls.  Let’s eliminate that.  Calling balls and strikes is already a ridiculously hard thing to do; the MLB has the resources to just let those in charge of that keep their focus as such.  Keeping managers and players in the dugout and not slowing down an already slow game can be managed better as well, by hiring people to do just that.  The current system allows for, and even encourages, long arguments which can exasperate everyone involved and elongate the game.  Having a Mediator and a Head Judge responsible for keeping that down just keeps everything running smoothly.

We all want the same thing here; good Baseball.  Long arguments leading to ejections leading to even longer arguments (“He’s getting his money worth now!) is pretty much the exact opposite of that.  The MLB has the resources available to take care of this problem; they just have to have the willingness to think progressively and outside the box.  Make it happen, Manfred.

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2 Responses to “Ejections, Umpires, and Improvement”

  1. Jeffrey Loria Body Count

    The solution would be for players, managers and umpires alike to simply behave and cut the petty arguments. That would be perfect, but we live in an imperfect world with imperfect baseball. You see, the reasons cited above are exactly why I’m for the ejections. I understand that the hottest player of the moment (Harper) being thrown out for arguing balls and strikes or whatever is bad and look bad, is bad for his team and bad for the fans who didn’t pay admission to see Old What’s His Face now batting 4th. But, without commenting on the specifics of Harper’s ejection, I feel comfortable knowing the hottest player of the month is as likely to be ejected if he goes too far as the proverbial What’s His Face replacing him.

    I just read today an article about Carl Mays. He threw at Ty Cobb’s head twice in the same game at Fenway in 1915. On both occasions, Cobb was so irate that a fight broke up and, both times, the two men had to be separated by policemen! As I was reading this, I was thinking: how come those two were still in the game?? See, such a thing is very unlikely today, and certainly not because we’re out of crazies like Mays and Cobb nowadays, but because we have a history of not tolerating such shenanigans. I live in a hockey town, and that sport had been out of hand for so long that it’s not only tolerated, but encouraged to hurt an opponent, fight him for the sake of fighting (the “enforcer” job definition is essentially that) and send him to the hospital with a brain injury. But people still love it, go figure. I know baseball is a different, way less physical game, but I don’t want to see that. I like my baseball not being hockey.

    Also, I prefer the occasional ejection and the occasional argument leading to the ejection, to constant quibbling at home plate after every pitch. Allow players to do that, and they would act childish all the time.

    That being said, I don’t say I dislike your suggestions and I like the fact that you came out with alternatives where someone else would have just complained, like we’re all so prompt to do with umpires and referees. I like the Head Judge idea, even though I think an irate manager would still try to bypass him and go after the source of his anger (the umpire), but as long as the umpires are held accountable (I’m not saying they are, truth is I just don’t know) by the league or whoever supervise their work, I’m ok with what we have now as far as maintaining order is concerned.

    Also, The Mediator is bascially a bouncer, right? 🙂 Could we have guests mediators, like I don’t know, The Rock?

    Reply
    • Andrew Patrick

      Thanks for the reply! I agree that the goal is to just reduce needless squabble, and if this leads to more silly bickering instead of order, then I’d throw it out. Yes, the mediator would be a glorified bouncer/bodyguard–just a neutral third party to escort managers off before they start hurling rosin bags and kicking dirt, so the Umpire doesn’t have to do it. If the Rock can do the job, I’d be happy to see David Price hit Rock Bottom.

      Reply

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