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.Next post: This Week in “Banished”: May 24, 2015
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