THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Earlier this year, I posted some thoughts on making sure athletes aren't revered as if they were gods. I wrote that piece a few months in advance of its posting because of the long line of posts we have here at the blog and how they get released, etc. While I was waiting for that piece to get published, I had to go back and edit it a few times to actually remove some of the names from it that were still included in the list of people who it was okay to, for lack of a better term, idolize.
I should have just kept that entire list blank.
When I watched the 2016 Chicago Cubs, I gave a lot of credit to young players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant because they looked like they played the game the right way. The clip between Rizzo and infamous umpire Angel Hernandez was heartwarming during the playoffs as it showed Rizzo apologizing to Hernandez and both coming to amicable terms, as if it was some sort of lost art in humanity.
Then, during the 2017 season, both players committed acts that made me regret that decision. We already discussed the dirty slide by Rizzo earlier this year. And that's not to say that Rizzo is a dirty player, but the act was clearly illegal (as was stated by Joe Torre); further, for Rizzo and his kooky manager Joe Maddon to both defend it makes it even worse.
In July, Bryant earned his first career ejection at the hands of umpire Lance Barksdale for a strike three pitch that was very much inside. Bryant was demonstrative in his disgust, pointing constantly as if to make sure the crowd knew the pitch was inside; his barrage of words, which, according to Maddon, were nowhere near anything Maddon has ever said to be ejected, was enough for Barksdale to send him on his way for the first time in his young career. And what did Bryant say after the game?
"I had to defend myself."
What is it with this young generation thinking the world revolves around them? You had to defend yourself against one bad call? Is that seriously that high on your priority list?
Here's a note to Bryant and anybody on the Chicago Cubs who now has a World Series ring: you just won your first championship in 108 years. You ended the longest standing streak of a championship drought, bringing not only the attention of the nation to Wrigley Field, but possibly the world. You are getting paid (or will be getting paid) millions of dollars to play a kids' game, let alone the additional money you made from the championship and every endorsement that followed. I understand that your new goal is to win another championship and to put the last one behind you, but that shouldn't be at the expense of common decency.
You know what Derek Jeter did when he disagreed with a call? He might have said something briefly to an umpire, but not in a demonstrative way, and he walked away before it could escalate. You know what Hideki Matsui did when he disagreed with a call? He looked straight up into the sky for a moment, then walked away.
Will Aaron Judge be the next person to disappoint me? Or will he continue to show some decency and restraint when he disagrees with a call?
Cowboy Joe West is a polarizing figure in Major League Baseball. He is one of the longest tenured umpires in the sport and worked his 5,000th game this season. He had a bit part in The Naked Gun when he was one of the umpires ejected from a baseball game by Frank Drebin. He is a country singer when he's not on the diamond. Fans either love him or hate him because of his moral compass. Whereas he feels he is doing what is right in the eyes of the game, others feel he is making the game about him. Somewhere, there is a PhD candidate writing a dissertation about him.
One thing he is not, though, is a target for deadly objects.
At the end of June while in Milwaukee for a series between the Brewers and the Marlins, West was working first base when a baseball was thrown from the stands and hit him in the back of the head. Smartly, West pulled the teams off the field until he felt nobody was in danger of further attack. Brewers security attempted to locate the fan who assaulted West, but were unable to do so immediately.
This incident occurs only months after a Toronto reporter was caught throwing a beer can at an Orioles outfielder during the 2016 AL Wild Card game. That reporter was fired and put on probation, among a list of other penalties.
The fact of the matter is that nobody deserves to be the target of assault, especially over something as trivial as a game. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, especially when it comes to the officiating of Joe West, but nobody has the right to throw a baseball at him with the intent to injure him. It's an absolute shame that someone could be so stupid...or perhaps it's a shame that someone could be so inebriated that such an idea seems logical.
The end of June had some stories that really tugged at our heart strings. Last week, we examined the heroic acts of MLB Umpire John Tumpane as he selflessly saved a woman from suicide. One day later, in Chicago, our hearts sunk.
Dustin Fowler was ranked as one of the best prospects in the New York Yankees' farm system. Scouts said he was ready for the big leagues in spring training, but he didn't get his call until late June when he met the team in Chicago to take on the White Sox.
After waiting out an approximate three hour rain delay, Fowler finally took the field in the bottom of the first inning shortly after 10pm local time. With two outs, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu hit a deep foul fly down the right field line. Fowler gave it his all, but the ball landed in the seats. The problem was that Fowler did, too.
Fowler's momentum took him into the padded wall and caused an injury to his right knee. He tried to stand on it and fell to the ground in pain. The medical cart had to come out to escort him to an ambulance. Fowler was due to lead off in the top of the second. He only played two defensive outs and didn't even get to the plate.
The grief everyone was feeling was immeasurable. Here's a kid who worked his whole life to get to this point, only to have his first game end abruptly.
If there was a moment where sportsmanship was shown, however, it came when the White Sox Twitter feed sent this out:
"Sending our thoughts to Dustin Fowler of the Yankees who left tonight's game following a collision with the right field foul wall."
The responses to this were incredible. Fans of both teams reached out to show their support. Yankees fans tipped their caps to the White Sox for their class.
It's a shame that it takes such an event to bring people together. But it's nice to know that people can reach across the proverbial aisle to come together in support of all members of the baseball family.
Perhaps it's not a story directly about sportsmanship, but this is a story about humanity, empathy, and heroic deeds, all of which are not mutually exclusive from sportsmanship. All of these are related to the same basic idea that we're all in this human race together, and it doesn't matter whether you are a competitor, an official, or a fan: life is a precious thing that requires us all to take a step back and appreciate one another. And what better time to reflect on this than during the holiday season?
Back in June, MLB umpire John Tumpane was working a series in Pittsburgh. "Tump," as he is known, had the plate for the game that night as the Pirates hosted the Tampa Bay Rays in an interleague matchup. During the day, he went for a run and for lunch when he noticed a woman on the wrong side of the Roberto Clemente bridge. This woman was considering suicide.
Through an act of courage with a touch of divine intervention, Tump was able to grasp onto this woman and prevent her from jumping to her death. He held her until the authorities arrived to take over and save this woman's life. The full account of this story is available on many news outlets (probably archived by now, but still readily available).
One of the most amazing moments of the account, however, was when this woman cried about how nobody would remember her or nobody would care about her. Tump replied by saying he would never forget her, even offering to take her to lunch to talk about life to prevent her from jumping. Talk about an understatement: how could anybody forget someone who was in such a perilous situation and was saved by the serendipity of someone being in the right place at the right time?
There are a ton of noted items from this story that go beyond just the account of what happened and the praise that Tump received for his heroism. First of all, this is a reminder that even MLB umpires are human and are on the same plane as everyone else. We have this concept that people of celebrity status somehow are demigods to us laymen, when, in reality, just because the stage is greater doesn't mean that these people aren't just the same as us. And that's not even to mention that MLB umpires usually don't want the notoriety that come with celebrity status; although the public may rally against them, umpires are happiest when nobody notices them.
Second, perhaps this story can remind us that life goes beyond our employment and entertainment. How many people in the stands that night would remember that the home plate umpire saved someone's life earlier that day? And if Tump missed a call that night, do you think that anyone on either team or in the stands would think twice before giving him hell for what they perceived to be a bad job? Or would common sense prevail and allow them to think, "Man, I think he missed that...but the guy saved someone's life today...we should cut him some slack..."
As an aside, and to put a little levity onto a serious situation, this is the best time a home plate umpire saved someone's life since Frank Drebin saved the Queen's life out in California...
All in all, kudos to Tump. I'm sure he deserves a cold beer and a hug.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.