THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Okay, here are a list of names. Tell me what they all have in common. Ready? Here it is:
J.A. Happ. Russell Martin. Josh Donaldson. Troy Tulowitzki. Jose Bautista. Kevin Pillar. Justin Smoak. Edwin Encarnacion. John Gibbons. Buck Martinez.
Did you figure it out? If not, here's the answer:
They're all crybabies.
On Monday night in Toronto, the Blue Jays and the Yankees got into two bench-clearing incidents (at least one of which involved a true physical altercation). The story goes like this. In the first inning, Yankees pitcher Luis Severino clipped the bottom of the elbow guard that Josh Donaldson wears on his left elbow, allowing Donaldson to take first base. In the second inning, when Chase Headley came up to bat, J.A. Happ threw his first pitch behind Headley, causing some alarm by the Yankees. On the next pitch, Happ hit Headley in the leg. This caused home plate umpire Todd Tichenor to issue warnings to both teams, but it did not stop both teams from coming onto the field looking for a fight. Joe Girardi argued that Happ should have been ejected, which prompted Girardi to be ejected instead.
In the bottom half of the same inning, Severino threw the first pitch to Justin Smoak behind Smoak, much in the same way Happ threw behind Headley. The second pitch similarly hit Smoak in the leg, earning Severino the automatic ejection (along with bench coach and acting manager Rob Thompson) and also causing both benches and bullpens to empty and for a fight to erupt. Further, pitching coach Larry Rothschild was also ejected.
Summary: four Yankees ejected (one player), two fights, and a few injuries from the fight.
What makes this incident incredibly frustrating is that, prior to this series starting, Donaldson apparently had a meeting with his team and took exception to the fact that he (along with many of his teammates) were either being brushed back off the plate with inside pitches or were being hit with pitches. Ergo, if anybody gets hit, retaliation is necessary.
What Donaldson didn't account for was that, in all the games the Blue Jays played against the Yankees this year (this was the 19th out of 19 meetings), he had been hit only once in those games. So a perceived frustration was to be taken out on the Yankees alone.
The general initial analysis of this dust up is that the Blue Jays, as they are constituted now, play the role of the victim like they're being paid by second. You can pick any particular starting point in the soap opera as the beginning of the timeline, but that doesn't change the fact that the culture brewing in the Toronto clubhouse is that of narcissism that falls nothing short of insanity.
We all have a friend who complains or mopes or gives up or stops caring or argues too much over ridiculous things all when things don't go his or her way. The Toronto Blue Jays are that friend in the social circle of Major League Baseball. We're all well versed on Jose Bautista's unsportsmanlike bat flip in the 2015 playoffs and the feud it began between the Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers. You'll also see a few other teams and enemies the Blue Jays have made over the years (they're not fans of Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals, but then again, he has had more fights than Mike Tyson). But the one that gets me every time is when a member of the Blue Jays gets upset with an umpire over balls and strikes.
Although I'm sure there are many umpires who dread seeing Toronto, the one umpire who can't catch a break is Vic Carapazza. Vic has had two games in the past year that have gone extra innings while behind the plate and in Toronto, and both of which have had numerous ejections of Blue Jays. One game was in the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers, and the other was in July 2016 against the Cleveland Indians.
In fairness, Carapazza may seem rough on the surface as an umpire. He calls his strikes hard and quick, as if he's trying to grab as many as he can or trick himself into not being able to think about the pitch; so many umpires are taught not to call pitches too quickly because they will miss them, which is why some of the longer tenured umpires (and better umpires) take a moment after the pitch to signal and/or call the pitch. When you watch him call a game with the naked eye (which is already tough because the camera is not directly projecting the strike zone), you may think he's inconsistent, which is only amplified by the Blue Jays' reactions.
But if you look at the plot of the pitches Carapazza had to call in those games in question, they're actually not as bad as you think. Are they somewhat inconsistent? Yes. When comparing those plots to the plots of other longer-tenured umpires, there are definitely a chunk of pitches that stand out as improperly officiated. But consider the fact that both of those games went so long into extra innings that it was almost the equivalent of Carapazza calling two games each day without a break. If a good umpire is expected to properly officiate greater than 90% of the pitches he calls, then Carapazza is probably still in the clear, especially based on fatigue.
The point here is that, for an umpire being as consistent as possible before fatigue sets in, the Blue Jays would not make an adjustment to Carapazza's strike zone in those games, causing arguments which eventually led to ejections. Russell Martin is the biggest offender because he catches and sees more of Carapazza than anyone else. If he thinks Carapazza missed a pitch, he lets Vic know, almost in an embarrassing and demeaning way. It's not that difficult to make an adjustment to the umpire's strike zone, yet the Blue Jays refuse.
In the case of Monday night's incident, Josh Donaldson refused to consider the fact that a rookie pitcher who didn't have his best control that night may have accidentally nipped the bottom of his elbow guard. Josh Donaldson may have also refused to consider the fact that he, like many of his teammates, crowds the plate so much that every scouting report in the world says to pitch him inside. You would think that a Major League Baseball player would understand that scouting reports spread like wildfires. It's the equivalent of getting angry when your opponent in chess makes a legal move you didn't see coming, then you getting upset and blaming your opponent for your error.
The Blue Jays' lack of intelligence doesn't stop there. Their coaching staff argues just as much as the players do. John Gibbons actually has made such a mockery of himself that he has come back out onto the field not once, but twice for a fight after he had already been ejected. As if it wasn't bad enough that he had done it once (when the Blue Jays and Royals fought last year in the regular season), he did it a second time less than a year later during the infamous game between the Blue Jays and the Rangers where Rougned Odor famously punched Jose Bautista. The fact that Gibbons has not been given a huge penalty from MLB for repeated violations of such an offense is actually more of an indictment on MLB than anything else.
One that's sure to upset patriots is the lack of respect the Blue Jays have for America. On Canada Day this year (which happened to be the same day as Carapazza's long game this year), the Blue Jays and the Indians both wore Canadian flags on their uniforms as a sign of respect. However, a few days later on July 4, the Blue Jays did not return the favor, instead continuing to wear only Canadian flags. And can you imagine what happened on September 11? Yep...same thing.
Finally, as we return to Monday night, consider the fact that the Blue Jays are on the precipice of the playoffs this season. Their chances of winning the AL East are slim to none, so if they make the playoffs, they will have to play the one-game Wild Card game. As of writing this, there less than a week before that game. And yet, in the fight on Monday, both Joaquin Benoit and Devon Travis both injured themselves to the point of probably not being able to participate in the playoffs. Apparently, defending your team's honor in ridiculousness is more important than a championship, which your team hasn't won since 1993.
Good job, guys.
Think about it, Blue Jays. It's not about you. It's not always the fault of someone else. I thought Canada was supposed to be full of nice people...
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.