How to Watch Baseball: A Different Point of View About Umpires
In our last thrilling episode of Stuff Most of Us Don’t Know About Baseball we talked about the Madison Bumgarner-Dan Bellino incident and explained why umpire Bellino might be upset and looking to retaliate and for good measure, then went on to explain how a smart catcher – and Jason Kendall certainly qualifies – can use umpire irritation to their advantage.
A number of readers (OK, it was only three, but three is still a number) drew the conclusion that umpires are overly-thin skinned, which may or may not be true, and I now realize I got more ‘splainin’ to do.
(And yes, you should definitely imagine Ricky Ricardo saying that last line.)
So here’s the deal on dealing with umpires.
Hitters and catchers can disagree with the home plate umpire and tell him they think he got the call wrong as long as they keep staring straight ahead and don’t make it obvious that they’re having a disagreement.
If you’ve ever seen a hitter suddenly decide to smooth out the dirt in the batter’s box for no apparent reason, he’ll probably be looking straight down like he’s just got to get this dirt perfect, but watch his mouth and he might be using the landscaping job as an excuse to give the umpire a piece of his mind.
And if an umpire decides he’s had enough and needs to tell the catcher or hitter to shut the hell up, he might decide to clean home plate – also for no apparent reason – to hide the fact that he’s giving them an earful.
The bottom line is this: you can disagree, just don’t put on a show for the fans.
Don’t go all Method-Actor Hamlet and chew the scenery and cry to the heavens and let everybody know just how unfair the umpire is being and it’s not your fault that you’re 0-for-4 with four punchouts; it’s these damned umpires.
In Big League Baseball when things don’t go your way, you’re expected to “wear it” like a professional and not whine and cry and stamp your feet which is exactly what I did when I found how much AT&T TV wanted each month to let me watch the Royals.
Think of it this way:
Most of us don’t have 30,000 fans watching us do our jobs, but you probably wouldn’t appreciate it if every time you made a mistake and wrote “they’re” when you actually meant “their” – an example that occurs to me for no apparent reason – you probably wouldn’t appreciate it if a co-worker ran through the office yelling:
“Look at the incredibly stupid thing Lee wrote!”
(Once again, “Lee” is a totally fictional character in a highly-hypothetical example that has never occurred to me personally.)
And if your boss told everyone in that hypothetical office they had to work late, he/and/or/she probably wouldn’t appreciate it if you rolled your eyes and said something along the lines of:
“Can you believe this clown?”
Even in the Real World it’s better to “praise in public, criticize in private” and not “air you’re dirty laundry for the neighbors to see” (and let’s assume I used “you’re” instead of “your” as a highly-sophisticated joke and not the unconscious typo it originally was) so that being the case, most of us feel exactly like those “thin-skinned” umpires.
The baseball tradition goes like this: “You don’t show me up and I won’t show you up.”
So what about rookies?
OK, so now let’s say you’re a high school ballplayer and you’re really, really good and everybody has always catered to you and made sure you passed your classes whether you showed up or not and you got drafted in the first round and they gave you a $5 million bonus and the coaches in the low minors were intimidated and didn’t want to be the ones to piss off the First-Round Pick because these days players aren’t afraid to call their agents and say this Double-A Dipshit Hitting Coach wants me to change my stance and the player agent calls the team GM and says you got some Lifetime .216 Hitter screwing around with Johnny Baseball and what do you plan on doing about it?
Who do you think is going to win that argument?
The team has $5 million dollars invested in Johnny Baseball; how much do they have invested in the Double-A hitting coach?
A lot of teams have decided that actual on-field experience isn’t necessary to run a team, but if you try to tell a player what he’s doing wrong, the first thing he’s going to do is look up your stats and if you don’t have any, probably come to the conclusion that you’re not worth listening to because you don’t have any experience and don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
Which is why smart teams will ask a well-respected veteran to go down to the minors and shoot a 4th of July Rocket up Johnny Baseball’s ass; the veteran can’t be fired and he’s got the credentials to give advice.
But let’s say the Johnny Baseball still doesn’t listen – and some kids won’t – and gets to the Big Leagues without ever listening to anyone at all and decides the rules really don’t apply to him because they never have before and he’s used to getting all the borderline pitches called his way because up until now, everybody has been kissing his ass.
Then a Big League borderline pitch doesn’t go his way and he puts on a show for the crowd and disrespects the umpire and everybody else who followed Baseball’s Unwritten Rules and kept their whining private.
Players use a phrase — “He thinks he’s bigger than the game” — to describe a player who doesn’t think he has to follow the customs and traditions that have been built up over centuries because he’s more special than anybody that ever played before, probably because his parents told him that over and over and so far they’ve been right.
The guys who have “been there, done that” are supposed to be respected because sticking in the Big Leagues for ten years is really, really hard and if you just arrived, you really haven’t done shit yet.
“Yeah, you knocked ‘em dead in Altoona, but that’s Max Scherzer on the mound; let’s see what you got now, kid.”
If you watched Bull Durham (and if you haven’t you’re pretty much dead to me until you do) Crash Davis spends most of the movie trying to explain all this to Nuke LaLoosh and get him ready for the Show.
OK, so there’s the background on why umpires behave the way they do and go ahead think some of them are thin-skinned, because some of them are, but there are customs and traditions in baseball that most of us don’t understand, but now you understand just a little more than you did a few minutes ago.
Enjoy the next ballgame you watch and if you haven’t seen Bull Durham, you need to get right on that.