THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Jack Furlong
Founder, President & CEO
In August 2022 at Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks hosted the St. Louis Cardinals. The only thing hotter than the outside temperature were the tempers of Cardinals rookie manager Oliver Marmol and veteran home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Marmol took exception to some of the calls made by Bucknor on balls and strikes, which led to Bucknor ejecting Marmol. According to reports, the heated argument that resulted included Bucknor commenting on Marmol’s tenure in the league (Marmol being in his first year as a manager). This led to Marmol’s reciprocal retort that demanded Bucknor finally retire from umpiring.
Fast forward to Spring Training 2023 on the east coast of Florida where Bucknor was stationed and assigned to be the home plate umpire for a game with the Cardinals. According to reports, Bucknor refused to shake Marmol’s hand during the pregame plate meeting. This led to postgame comments from Marmol that further questioned his ability to umpire in addition to his class as a man.
Major League Baseball investigated the incident and eventually came to believe everything was behind them, clearing the air and putting the entire soap opera to bed. However, as media members and fans alike began to dissect the timeline of events, the same refrain of hating the umpire rang in the rafters. The question these people asked was the same: on behalf of his status representing the sport of baseball, why couldn’t Bucknor just be the “bigger man” and forget it?
Can you recall a time when you held a job in an industry such as retail, food service, or hospitality? If so, can you think of an example during said tenure when a customer was nasty, either for no reason or provoked due to a minor mistake? Was your window of tolerance ever so small or closed that it led to a confrontation with the customer that became more than it should have ever been?
That might be an accurate comparison of what occurred between Marmol and Bucknor that day.
Everyone who has or has held a job that involves customers, clients, or other people who are served or serviced by such work usually must encounter people who simply do not understand that the combination of unprovoked poor behavior, finger pointing, and catching people at the wrong time can lead to disastrous results. Emotions and feelings begin to boil, calling upon defense mechanisms for support. Words fly from mouths and through the air with the intent to attack, defend, and wage war without the use of rational thought.
For example, imagine a restaurant customer sitting at a table. The customer is not thrilled with the service of the waitstaff and decides to complain in a belligerent and boisterous way to the manager, taking personal jabs at the waitress assigned to the table. The manager explains to the customer that the restaurant is short staffed that day, as a few workers are sick, and the waitress in question came in on a day off to help. Further, the waitress has been dealing with a terminally ill parent, causing her performance at work to suffer slightly.
The customer refuses to apologize and simply demands better service.
If that customer continued to come back to that restaurant while that waitress was working, what would be the probability that the waitress would refuse to serve this customer, let alone even acknowledge the customer, knowing that what was said prior was hurtful and inconsiderate of what was happening in her life at that time?
Oliver Marmol may have felt that his actions were justified that day for a myriad of reasons (like the “defense” of his players), but the fact of the matter is that his words clearly struck a chord that caused C.B. Bucknor to be quite offended. Even if Marmol was provoked by Bucknor, there can be quite a difference in tenor between noting rookie status and the aging process. Sure, that may not justify Bucknor’s comment, but there is a distinct difference between grotesque phrases that can boil down to not “earning one’s stripes yet” versus being put out to pasture, similar to the difference between verbal taunting and physically assaulting. Further, being the “bigger man” doesn’t always mean to forget that someone treated you horribly; it can mean maturely standing up for one’s feelings.
Perhaps the real sin (or where the line was certainly crossed) was when Marmol decided to question the integrity of someone tasked with upholding the game of baseball.
Imagine a teacher disciplines a young student for bad behavior in school. The student asks, “What did I do? What could I have possibly done to deserve this?”
The teacher responds, “You’re ten years old in your first week of fifth grade and you’re talking back to me. I’m not having that for this entire school year.”
The student responds, “Then you need to retire! You’re terrible at your job and you’ve been doing it for too long! If you won’t give me what I want or deserve, then I demand the school gives me a teacher who will!”
That is essentially what happened between Marmol and Bucknor.
Perhaps a better example would be to translate this to a situation where a police officer has pulled an adult over for a traffic stop. The cop says to the driver, “I saw you driving dangerously, weaving in and out of traffic in a very unsafe way.”
The driver responds, “That’s preposterous. There’s absolutely no way I could have done that. You’re not seeing clearly and should have your eyes checked.”
Here’s an example of what the cop absolutely will not say: “You know what? You’re right. I’m a terrible cop and need to get glasses. Excuse me while I go home and rethink my life.”
Although positions of authority are held by fallible humans who are no better than any other human, the position of authority must be respected, especially if dealing with a comparatively inconsequential environment such as sports. Teachers, police officers, and umpires demand respect when they are on duty or at work. It’s certainly possible that the person holding that authority is not as honorable as we would like, but the uniform still requires the respect it deserves.
Therefore, can anyone blame Bucknor for feeling so insulted that he would refuse to shake Marmol’s hand the following year? Such a personal attack really seemed to get under Bucknor’s skin. We have no idea if Bucknor was experiencing something that day that might make him more sensitive, but that point is moot when we begin to consider that we should simply be treating others the way we would want to be treated, regardless of circumstances.