THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
If you know who Bob Davidson is, then you're either part of Major League Baseball, a resident of the greater Philadelphia area, or related to him.
He wears number 61 on his sleeve. He used to have a lot more hair than he has now. And he is probably casually hated by a few too many people.
Davidson is a Major League Baseball umpire. He has a history of calling balks on pitchers as if he were paid by the balk, hence the name "Balkin' Bob Davidson." For the longest time, he was probably hated everywhere he went within the game. He was the "crotchety old man who told people to get off his lawn" of baseball. Even if you don't understand baseball, you could tell a lot of this just by how he goes down into his crouch behind the plate. It looks like he is trying to flex his muscles and defecate simultaneously.
Davidson's history is probably enough to warrant a published autobiography upon his retirement. On August 23, 1989, Davidson ejected Youppi!, the mascot of the Montreal Expos.
On October 20, 1992, Davidson kicked a call in Game 3 of the 1992 World Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves. Davidson ruled that Deion Sanders was not tagged out on a controversial play in the 4th inning. Perhaps it is better explained this way:
Davidson was one of the umpires who resigned in 1999 as part of a failed mass resignation during labor negotiations. As such, he was out of professional baseball until 2003, when he resumed umpiring in minor league baseball. In December 2004, he was guaranteed the first vacancy on the Major League umpire staff, which wouldn't occur until 2007.
Davidson got the chance to work the 2006 World Baseball Classic, but controversy would find him there as well. In one incident, team Mexico was arguing with Davidson over a ball that was called foul when they thought it should have been a home run. They even retrieved the ball and tried to bring it out to Davidson to show him the paint that was scraped off the foul pole. Later in the tournament, Davidson had to overturn a call due to the wrong umpire making a call on a tag-up appeal.
On September 8, 2010, Davidson achieved a holy trinity of ejections by ejecting two players (one from each team) and a drunk fan, who used a homophobic slur towards a player.
On May 15, 2012, Davidson got into an argument with what seemed like the entire Philadelphia Phillies team due to him accidentally being in the way of the Phillies' catcher trying to retrieve a wild pitch. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was ejected by Davidson in the ensuing argument. Major League Baseball suspended Davidson one game because of "repeated violations of the Office of the Commissioner's standards for situation handling," potentially culminating from several incidents which included Davidson's conduct during that specific argument. For what it's worth, Manuel was also suspended for one game.
Davidson made his MLB debut in 1982 in the National League and worked his only World Series in 1992. He has worked three All-Star Games, the World Baseball Classic in 2006, and a smattering of other postseason assignments.
So why are we discussing Balkin' Bob? Because it's time we gave him some credit.
On Tuesday night while in Philadelphia, where Davidson himself admitted he has a horrible reputation, Balkin' Bob ejected a fan for the second time in his career. Davidson's account differed significantly from the fan's account, which is to be expected, but if we believe Davidson's account, and we have no reason not to, the language that was used, although quite creative, significantly intensified.
Give Davidson credit. Following his suspension a few years ago, Davidson appears to have worked diligently on improving himself. Last year, the majority of his ejections were not over the correctness of a call, but over unsportsmanlike conduct stemming from incidents such as pitchers throwing at hitters. He only has one ejection this year, which was over balls and strikes, and his call was correct.
For the record, Davidson is not the only umpire to eject a fan. The newly retired Tim Welke did it in 2014 as well. So it's not like he's setting a precedent.
But with this complete change in character, one must ask: is Bob Davidson becoming the moral police? Or maybe he's just becoming more relaxed in his old age? It's incredibly interesting to see an umpire actually heed the lesson from his suspension a few years ago and mellow out.
As for the incident this week and the fan in question, the bigger moral question is why we've let these unruly fans behave in these ways for so long without taking action? Is it because each of these fans has paid to be there, giving them the right to do anything they want so long as it's not illegal? Are the fans allowed to cheer, boo, yell, or heckle at any player or official since they are the reason the salaries get paid in the first place? Do security officials not intervene so as to not discourage fans from getting upset that they can't act however they want, thus deterring those fans from wanting to continue to pay money to go to games?
Or should we look at this logically?
Why do we let one unruly fan ruin it for everyone? Isn't a ballgame played in a public place where we are supposed to act like normal people are supposed to act in public? Why are families supposed to sit in designated "family sections" so they are shielded from the rude behavior of drunk jerks? Who actually thinks that parents shouldn't bring their kids to games?
The funny thing is that each of these fans who were ejected by umpires were found by the press following the incident. It's a shame that we have to give them their 15 minutes of fame in the first place, but each one of them defended themselves by saying they weren't trying to offend anyone, they didn't actually say anything that bad, they were misheard, and they were certainly not drunk.
What makes this cycle even more sad is that the inappropriate behavior of fans at major league ballparks trickles down to the fields that host children as they play youth baseball. If a fan thinks he or she can act that way while at a professional game, that same fan is prone to act in the same manner while watching their 10-year-old son.
What Bob Davidson did is actually what some of us amateur umpires already do: eject fans (no matter if it's a direct ejection or a request to a field director or security officer to remove a fan) to set an example that fans have the same responsibility as everyone else present to act in a dignified manner. Sure, you have the right to cheer as well as boo (hopefully only on the professional stage for the latter). But you don't have the right to act like a fool at a ballgame, much in the same way you don't have the right to act that way anywhere in public.
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Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.