- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The umpires have become a topic of conversation again, after Joe West's run-in with Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen last week, after Bill Hohn's skirmish with Roy Oswalt, and after Joe Maddon had his issues with Angel Hernandez in the ninth inning of Tuesday's night's game.
Here's the thing: It's like fighting in hockey. If the folks in power in Major League Baseball aren't going to push for change, well, all the hand-wringing from the rest of us isn't going to make a bit of a difference.
It feels like we've been having the same conversation for decades. The umpires are too aggressive, we say. They should walk away from arguments, we say, rather than chasing down players and managers to retort.
Nobody pays tickets to see the umpires, says Ozzie and the rest of us. They aren't part of the show, we say.
Well, yes, they are.
Until the commissioner decides to drop both iron fists on this kind of behavior, the umpires are part of the show -- like when they go chest to chest and bump bills of their caps with a manager, or when they demonstratively toss somebody from the game with a dramatic sweep of their finger.
We know the National League Football referees only when they turn on their microphones and speak, and for all the talk about Ed Hochuli's biceps, we really don't know anything about refs -- and we certainly don't see them stop the game to move toward the sideline and go nose-to-nose with a Mike Shanahan over something that the coach may have said. We don't know any of the side judges or back judges. Rest assured, there is conversation going on between the participants and the refs during the game, but most of the referee retorts take place out of the sides of their mouths, as they focus on the field. That's how the NFL wants it. The next referee who runs to the sidelines to exchange F-bombs with Bill Belichick during a game would be seeking alternative employment by the end of the half.
But in baseball, the confrontations between the umpires and managers (and players) have been going on for years. Just ask Billy Martin, and Earl Weaver (warning: Weaver's language in this clip isn't appropriate for all) and Lou Piniella and Phillip Wellman.
Joe West has been umpiring for more than three decades and, in all honesty, the complaints about him are not exactly breaking news -- a lot of players and managers believe he's arrogant and unapproachable and doesn't have enough patience, and that he'll stick it to you if you've done him wrong.
I once covered a rookie second baseman who short-hopped a low line drive and raised his glove as if he had caught the ball, before throwing to first base to complete the play; according to the player at the time -- he told me this story right after the game -- West yelled at him, "Were you trying to trick me? Were you trying to trick me?" And the rookie apologized profusely, while imagining a lot of borderline ball-strike calls going against him in the years to come.
Angel Hernandez has been seen as a difficult personality for years. Bob Davidson clearly has a different interpretation of the balk than a lot of his peers, which is why his nickname is Balkin' Bob. But none of this is new. This stuff has been said over and over and over, and change does not happen.
At some point -- long before Bud Selig took power -- commissioners started looking the other way. They see the same thing we do, just as the NHL commissioners see the gloves being dropped and the punches being thrown in their sport. And baseball commissioners have chosen to let this part of the sport's culture continue.
Keep one thing in mind: This goes both ways. MLB has also allowed managers and players to pursue umpires through the years. If a coach in the NBA ran onto the court during a game, he'd be immediately ejected (and suspended); the same thing would happen in the NHL. And in the NFL, we never see coaches run to midfield to get in the face of the referees; rather, they are left to lean over the sidelines and shout from a distance, tilting over an imaginary line. In baseball arguments, the players and the managers are given more leeway.
If I were commissioner for a day, I'd ask the umpires to tone it down. I don't think they should be following managers and players to the dugout. I think they should hold their ground by their bases, and if somebody comes out to argue with them, well, they shouldn't let themselves get pushed around.
But I'm not sure if changing rules to the point of turning everybody into robots is necessarily a good thing, either. Anybody who's been to a baseball game knows that when a close call occurs -- especially when made against the home team -- there is a certain amount of expectation for the manager to come out to argue. The fans in Baltimore used to call for Weaver -- "Earl! ... Earl!" -- in the same way that Piniella is now summoned in Wrigley Field. Home managers arguing vociferously are cheered, and the opposing managers who dispute a call are booed. When a team is getting hammered repeatedly, the manager almost routinely looks for an opportunity to race onto the field and yell and get ejected.
And guess who gets to be the foil.
Are they all part of the show?
Yeah, they are.
The commissioner could choose to push for change, the way he has with steroid testing, the way he has with the playoff format or realignment, but he also knows the umpires are part of the show.
• Oswalt tells Adam Kilgore that he would accept a trade to the Nationals. On paper, this is the best fit for the Astros for a possible deal.
• The Diamondbacks suffered their ninth straight loss and third consecutive walk-off loss, Nick Piecoro writes, and they are looking at a June/early-July schedule that just makes you cringe:
At Los Angeles (1)
Home vs. Colorado (3)
Home vs. Atlanta (4)
Home vs. St. Louis (3)
At Boston (3)
At Detroit (3)
Home vs. the Yankees (3)
At Tampa Bay (3)
At St. Louis (3)
Home vs. Los Angeles (3)
The Diamondbacks' early-season play and this schedule is why executives with other teams believe Arizona will be looking to move payroll early in the year -- perhaps with such veterans as first baseman Adam LaRoche (hello, Angels).
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Lou Piniella shook up his lineup, and the Cubs lost.
3. Paul Konerko is discounting the possibility of a trade to the Angels. I just don't see the White Sox blowing up their season and dealing Konerko any time soon. Maybe in late July, but not now. Kenny Williams says he doesn't have a deadline.
4. Aroldis Chapman threw seven innings in his most recent outing in Triple-A.
6. Manny Acta is searching for a middle man.
9. Doug Melvin talks about his pitching moves here.
10. The Rangers' priority at the trade deadline should be in getting a catcher, writes Evan Grant.
11. Aki Iwamura has been benched.
12. It's time for the Orioles to let Dave Trembley go, writes Peter Schmuck, because the job is eating him alive.
Dings and dents
7. Freddie Freeman had his knee examined.
1. Watched a lot of the Braves-Phillies game, and you could see the air go out of the Phillies at the moment when Troy Glaus clubbed his three-run homer. And it's apparent that Cole Hamels is still no closer to refining a third pitch than he was at the outset of training camp. Chipper may be coming around again, writes Jeff Schultz.
2. At least the Phillies swung the bats better, writes Charlie Manuel.
3. Joey Votto had a huge game and the Reds climbed back into first place, John Fay writes. Scott Rolen has been on fire, the ESPN Stats & Information guys note: Rolen's first home run came off a curveball, his second homer off the pitch this season. In 2008 and 2009, Rolen had just one home run against a curveball. In those two seasons, his chase percentage against the pitch was almost 33 percent, and he hit just .219 against the curve. In 2010, he's chasing just 20.5 percent of curveballs, and he's hitting .467 with two HRs.
4. Mike Pelfrey was The Man for the Mets, David Lennon writes. Why Pelfrey won, from Mark Bowers of ESPN Stats & Information: He worked the middle and down effectively -- he threw 69 pitches and had batters swing 17 times while yielding only one hit on pitches middle and down. He finished off batters -- 92 percent of batters who went to two-strike counts were converted into outs (compared to the MLB average of 72 percent). He threw a strike in at least one of his first two pitches 93 percent of the time (compared to the MLB average of 85 percent.)
4. The Rays pulled out a big win, writes Marc Topkin.
6. The Angels lost a game of inches.
7. The Padres got shut down, Dan Hayes writes.
8. The Mariners' offense showed signs of life, writes Larry Stone.
9. The Giants couldn't mount anything offensively, says Bruce Bochy.
12. The Cardinals got pounded.
15. The Indians have an optimistic outlook after beating the Tigers.
17. John Lackey wasn't great, but he and the Red Sox won anyway. An outsider's perspective: I think Lackey and Tim Lincecum are walking more guys, in part, because they are a little gun-shy about throwing their fastballs over the plate.
18. The White Sox blew a lead, writes Mark Gonzales.
20. Chris Coghlan sparked the Marlins, Clark Spencer writes. After seeing an early-season sophomore slump, Coghlan is starting to play closer to his rookie-season form. In 2009, Coghlan hit .321 with an .850 OPS while swinging at 41.1 percent of pitches. From April 5 through May 15, he hit .208 with a .507 OPS, while swinging at 48.2 percent of all pitches. He's gotten more selective. Since that time, he's swinging at just 40.6 percent of pitches, and has hit .292 with an .811 OPS. He needs to be a little less aggressive.
22. The Astros got to frolic, Bernardo Fallas writes.
23. The Rangers smacked out 19 hits.
24. A call went against the Nationals.
The Patience Index
The Impatience Index
• Tim Kawakami addresses the Giants' biggest question: What's wrong with Tim Lincecum?
• Celebrations in sports have become overdone and dangerous, writes Steve Kelley.
• Gwen Knapp doesn't like the idea of the Marlins' selling tickets to a perfect game after the fact.
• Angels owner Arte Moreno is a good guy, writes T.J. Simers.
• Someone who bid on the Rangers before is still interested, writes Barry Shlachter.
• Vanderbilt is a No. 2 seed in its region.
And today will be better than yesterday.
While other sports have worked hard to subdue any interaction between coaches, players and referees -- can you imagine Bill Belichick racing out to argue with Ed Hochuli? -- MLB continues to offer up its umpires and their battles as part of the show.