THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
In this three part series, we will examine some of the craziness of MLB umpires that took place during August 2017.
Ian Kinsler took it too far.
During a game in August, Kinsler was ejected by Angel Hernandez for arguing balls and strikes. Yes, Angel Hernandez is back. But this time, it wasn't over a lawsuit or an actual bad call.
When Kinsler was tossed (and Hernandez got the call right), he went on a tirade that included pointing his bat in Hernandez's face. His comments included suggesting that "nobody wants [Hernandez] here" and that he should "re-evaluate his career choice."
If you're that interested in finding an exact transcript, go search for it. It's so ridiculous that it doesn't deserve to be listed here. But Kinsler basically said Hernandez is "messing up baseball."
If Kinsler had been ejected for something he didn't do, especially if it was his first career ejection, I can understand an overreaction, even if it's wrong. It's equivalent of being wrongfully accused of a crime: if you didn't do it, you'd shout it from the rooftops.
But this isn't Kinsler's first rodeo.
Look, I know that those in baseball who don't understand umpires (read: players, coaches, managers, etc.) see Angel Hernandez and immediately assume it's going to be a long day. But enough is enough.
Hernandez was asked about Kinsler's comments and gave the proper response: he just wants to go out and do his job.
Before the end of the series, however, Hernandez was working second base when Kinsler came out for the bottom of the first inning. The two shook hands and made up. Hernandez went as far as putting his hand on Kinsler's shoulder during the apology.
Kinsler never publicly apologized for the comments and wouldn't elaborate on the exchange...probably because he's too proud and doesn't understand that real men can admit when they're wrong.
(Also, at the time of writing this, Kinsler was not suspended for the comments. But if we've reached a point where we are rightly suspending players for homophobic slurs, suspending players for comments such as these should be warranted. A suspension here makes more sense than suspending Joe West for good-natured ribbing.)
In this three part series, we will examine some of the craziness of MLB umpires that took place during August 2017.
If Joe Torre claims he doesn't have a grudge against umpires, then he may be lying through his teeth.
Slightly over a month after Angel Hernandez filed a lawsuit against MLB over racial discrimination and the grudge that Torre has with him which is preventing him from being promoted to the position of crew chief and receiving World Series assignments, Blue Cowboy Joe West was suspended by MLB for three games over tongue-in-cheek comments made in an article praising him for umpiring his 5,000th career game.
In the article, West was asked which MLB player complains the most to him over calls. West cited Adrian Beltre in a manner that was obviously equivalent to a good nature elbow to the ribs. Beltre had just reached the 3,000 hit club, a feat that usually guarantees a ticket to Cooperstown. (Beltre had also just been ejected by Gerry Davis, the other long tenured umpire, for showing him up by moving the on-deck circle when asked to stay in the circle.)
The article was published earlier in the summer. However, West was handed a three-game suspension in August for the comment, citing an lack of impartiality and professionalism. There was no explanation regarding the delay in levying the punishment.
Both Beltre and Rangers manager Jeff Bannister were asked about the comment and had the same reaction: they knew it was a joke.
So why did MLB feel the need to send a message to West?
We discuss the human element of sports all the time here. Umpires are people too. The relationship between umpires and players (and coaches) should be a bit more jovial in order to keep the seriousness in check. After all, it's a game.
But I guess the bigger question is this: why is Joe Torre, a former player and manager, in charge of umpires?
Most of the time, when I read anything from the Sporting News, it's garbage. But this article actually had some merit to it.
Ryan Davis did an article back in August about the human side of trading players mid-season. He caught up with Sean Doolittle as he was being traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Washington Nationals, which is a pretty big jump when you consider the distance traveled in both residences and playoff standings.
Doolittle and his fiance both discussed the challenges they faced in relocating, specifically citing the attachments to their former lifestyles in Oakland. However, credit was given to the people involved in the process, such as the clubhouse attendants who did things like make sure their car was shipped as they hopped a flight, or that the lease on their place was assumed by another player.
It's easy for the fans to forget that the guys in our favorite uniforms are more than just assets being utilized for competition. These are people with families and feelings. The wave of emotions that can sweep through a person when he is traded is immense, ranging from anxiety to depression.
One of the most common feelings a traded player may experience is, "So my old team didn't want me anymore? They thought I wasn't any good?" Thankfully, this isn't usually the case in most trades, but it's a common human reaction.
In Doolittle's case, the A's traded him because the Nats wanted him, not because the A's didn't. They needed arms in the bullpen who were competent and could help them in their playoff push. The A's weren't going anywhere that season, and the opportunity to receive younger talent with a chance for success in the future was worth more to them than to covet an asset in his prime during a time when a championship was not in the realm of possibilities.
By contrast, consider the trade made between the Yankees and White Sox around the same time. One player who might have felt this emotion was Tyler Clippard. Clippard struggled for two months prior to the trade, so when the Yankees acquired David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to upgrade their bullpen, Clippard was the pitcher who had to go based on his performance. The White Sox took Clippard back in the trade, which turned out to be smart on their part because they were able to flip him to the Houston Astros later to acquire more potential assets.
The fact of the matter is that we, as fans, owe it to the sport and the players to keep our fandom in check insomuch as it concerns remembering the human element the players face in these situations. If you ever had to pick up and move because a parent got a new job out of state, perhaps you can relate to what these players experience. Although, the massive salaries probably ease that burden...
Back in August, the world of Major League Baseball showed us another reason how the world of competition can come together to realize what is really important in life.
Colorado Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis spent most of the 2017 season battling testicular cancer. He was cleared of it prior to Spring Training, but it soon returned, forcing him to miss a large chunk of the season. However, on a Monday night in mid-August, he finally made his first appearance on a big league mound after more than two months of chemotherapy.
The Rockies sent out a Tweet following his outing, which happened to be seven scoreless innings. The Tweet noted that the only score that mattered was "Chad Bettis 1, Cancer 0."
And that's when the world of baseball tipped its proverbial cap.
Almost immediately, teams began replying to the Tweet with personal messages of respect, and the Rockies responded to every single one. It was a symbolic gesture that opponents could send, noting that competition is purely between the lines and should always be respectful. More importantly, it showed that all the players are on the same team when it comes to the game of life.
On July 31, the baseball world hovers around a device of choice listening to the news break of trades coming down before the non-waiver deadline. However, this past occurrence had some nice moments outside of trades worthy of highlighting, even if there were some detractors.
In Miami on what would have been the 25th birthday of the late Jose Fernandez, Gio Gonzalez took the mound for the visiting Washington Nationals to face the Miami Marlins. Gonzalez's wife was imminently due to go into labor with their child. Further, Gonzalez was good friends with Fernandez.
So what does Gonzalez do? He falls one inning short of throwing a no-hitter.
It was a moving scene as Gonzalez was taken out after giving up his first hit of the night. As he walked off the field, the crowd at Marlins park gave him a standing ovation. Giancarlo Stanton was on deck when Gonzalez was replaced, and even he took the time to applaud him as Gonzalez walked off the field. Gio gave a wave in the direction of Stanton, but he was actually waiving to Fernandez's family, who was sitting behind the Marlins' dugout. It was a nice moment where the baseball family was able to see that life and death was just a little bigger than the game.
Of course, however, Marlins' manager Don Mattingly had to rain on the parade in his post-game comments, noting his team's poor performance and approach to Gonzalez, rather than just tipping his cap and moving on. It's not like the Marlins were in a pennant race anyway.
Meanwhile, in New York, the Tigers and Yankees faced off after the Yankees had just acquired pitcher Sonny Gray. Tigers' right fielder Jim Adduci (who received regular playing time after Detroit traded JD Martinez to Arizona) made a spectacular catch to rob Todd Frazier of his first "cheap Yankee Stadium" home run (which is where the ball just barely scrapes over the right field porch in a notoriously easy manner). Frazier stopped in his tracks when he was overcome with a moment of disappointment, but it quickly dissipated as he walked back to the dugout. Frazier looked out to Adduci and tipped his helmet to him to congratulate him on the catch, which was a nice touch.
Of course, however, the Detroit Tigers had to rain on the parade. Tigers' center fielder Mikie Mahtook was hit by a pitch twice in his at bats (once in the helmet), and first baseman Miguel Cabrera went on a rampage in the dugout after striking out that none of his teammates were protecting their team and hitting one of the Yankees. Pitcher Michael Fulmer (the reigning Rookie of the Year who was having an off-night) took the responsibility and drilled Yankees' center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in the hip. The cameras immediately panned to Cabrera at first base when Yankees' first base coach Tony Pena walked over and began the conversation that was akin to asking why that was necessary when it was clear they weren't trying to purposely hit anybody. It was another instance of "plunking" that is one of the most ridiculous things in sports.
Finally, as the Seattle Mariners visited the Texas Rangers, Mariners' ace pitcher Felix Hernandez took a moment in the bottom of the first inning to approach Rangers' third baseman at the batter's box and hug him in congratulating him on his achievement of reaching 3,000 career hits just one day prior. It was a nice human moment that caught many people by surprise. Even home plate umpire Doug Eddings took off his mask and approached Hernandez as if he was expecting some sort of fight to break out; when the hug broke out, Eddings went to fix his cap to save himself from awkward embarrassment. It was a funny moment that took a backseat to the important moment of took friends showing their human side during a pennant race.
However, pundits like Christopher Russo had to rain on the parade. He opined in a self-proclaimed feisty rampage that nobody would approve of this behavior, from the coaching staff to the front office of each team. It was another throwback to the mindset of testosterone and machismo being the predominant driving forces behind athletic competition, rather than a more modern and reasonable approach of letting athletic ability be the determining factor and remembering that all of these professional baseball players are really on the same team of both one players' union and one human race.
Let's hope that 2018 provides more examples of the good instead of the bad!
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.