16 May 2012

The Umpire and Mr. Lawrie

For those of you who aren't baseball fans, you may not need to read any further.  It's been a while since I've blogged, mainly because I've been back in Toronto for the past few weeks and nothing much has happened.

And then last night, in the bottom of the 9th inning of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball game, the proverbial shit hit the fan.  I'm always particularly attuned to "umpire incidents" in baseball because of the 15 years that I've spent as an umpire myself.  I've worked some of the highest levels of fast-pitch softball in Canada (and one tournament in the US), and have seen the elite of the sport duke it out. 

I am also no stranger to conflict on the ball diamond.  I have ejected players and coaches, been threatened, and I've even been spit on.*  However, I would genuinely have to say that despite the levels of intensity** that can be reached in games that I've officiated (a Canadian Championship, and several high-profile international club-team tournaments, as well as countless Ontario provincial championships, National qualifiers and league championships), I'm always astounded with umpires who carry grudges or make calls just to show up a player.

Which brings me to the "Brett Lawrie Incident."***  Toronto third-baseman and BC native, Brett Lawrie, a young (22) firebrand of a ball player if I've ever seen one, basically went ballistic, and threw his batting helmet in the direction of the umpire (Bill Miller) who had just called him out on a third strike that appeared to be high.  You can read about the incident yourself here: CLICK ME!

What bothers me, in addition to Lawrie's childish behaviour, is the umpire.  If you watch video of the incident, you will notice that Lawrie is ejected practically immediately after turning around following the umpire's 3rd strike call.

What this tells me is that the umpire DELIBERATELY was going to call any borderline pitch, and then eject Lawrie the second he made the slightest complaint/protest.  Why?  Probably because he didn't like the way Lawrie started running down to first base before he had made the call the VERY outside pitch that ended up being strike two.  Miller's thought process was probably along the lines of "That rookie son of a bitch.  Who does he think he is trotting down to first base^ before I make the call.  I'll show him."  Then, he proceeded to call the next pitch, borderline at very best (according to pitch data), but was actually very high on a batter like Lawrie, who is not over tall, and who crouches down when he hits, strike three.  This smacks of blatant predetermination by the umpire, and then a quick trigger. 

Umpires, when they know they've made a mistake and blown a call, will generally look for ways to keep from ejecting players for their own errors.  This was the opposite.  A deliberate call to make the rookie^^ look bad.  This brings the level of officiating down, and causes players, fans and media to doubt the integrity of the umpires.

Overall, Major League Baseball umpires have a sparkling reputation of being impervious to bribery, unlike some sports *cough* soccer *cough*.  Their integrity has been unimpeachable, and they are well paid in order to make sure that they are not vulnerable to being paid off.  However, petty grievances and "look at me" tactics are beneath Major League umpires.

While Lawrie was a jackass, Miller, hopefully, will not get off scott-free.


* Many of my fellow "Blue" remember the "Niagara Falls Incident," one of the only real incidents of its kind in Ontario Men's Fast-pitch softball.

** While the amount of money involved in the ball that I have officiated doesn't even come close to matching the Major Leagues, I've seen players and coaches go off on "Lawrie-esque" tantrums before.

*** Word has come down that Lawrie is being suspended for 4 games for his part in the fiasco.

^ If you haven't watched Lawrie play, he is possibly one of the most intense players in the league and doesn't "trot" anywhere.  It was more of a full blown sprint.

^^ Yes, I know that Lawrie is technically not a rookie.