Parables that resonate for umpiring.

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Food for Thought. Stuff to Think About.

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Blame Baseball for Shameful Treatment of Umpires
CBS Sports.com
From: CBS Sports
By: Gregg Dovel - CBSSports.com National Columnist

Blame Baseball for Shameful Treatment of Umpires


St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina spittle-spat on an umpire Tuesday night, but I don't blame Molina. Don't get me wrong -- I don't blame the umpire, either. Yadier Molina spittle-spat on an umpire, and for that I blame baseball. So when commissioner Bud Selig looks into the Molina incident, hopefully he will take into account whose fault this is and suspend his own sport for a week. If not longer. Make it hurt, Bud.

For a change.

And there, in those two paragraphs, is enough information for you to piece together the rest of the column. I just channeled my inner Dan Brown and set the rest of this formula piece into motion. I foreshadowed. I hinted. I suggested. I did everything for you but solve The Da Vinci Code, but just for you I'll finish the job. I'll explain what I meant, and I'll do it in less than 500 agonizing pages. Do I seem like someone who's not a fan of Dan Brown's writing? Good. You're paying attention.

Now hear this:

Yadier Molina wasn't acting out because he has an anger problem. He was acting out because baseball has a leadership problem -- always has. Not one of its commissioners has been worth a damn, up to and including Bud Selig, not when it comes to disciplining its misbehaving players and managers.
Why did Yadier Molina freak out Tuesday night at umpire Rob Drake over a called third strike? Because he could. That's why. He did it because he could, because those who came before him have done what Molina did on Tuesday -- done what he did, and done much worse. And what happened to most of them?

Nothing.

Only baseball allows its players (and managers) to throw a toddler's tantrum during a game. Fifty-something Lou Piniella waddles onto the field in his sagging baseball uniform, looking like a grandfather in pajamas, and uproots one of the bases and flings it in anger at an umpire's call. And what happens to Piniella? He gets ejected from the game, but there's always tomorrow. No suspension. Come back to work tomorrow, Sweet Lou. You're welcome here.

Roberto Alomar spits in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996, and not the kind of spittle-spray that Molina inadvertently expectorated onto Drake as he was screaming at him. No, Alomar hocked a loogie in Hirschbeck's face, the ultimate act of disrespect -- and a criminal act on the streets -- and he was suspended five games.

Not five years. Not five months. Five games.

So why did Yadier Molina snap Tuesday night and get ominously and aggressively into Drake's face and stay there until he was pulled away by two people? Because he could. Because baseball has always tolerated that kind of behavior.

It wouldn't be tolerated in the NFL. It wouldn't be tolerated in the NBA. I don't know what would happen to an NBA or NFL player who confronted an official as brazenly as Molina confronted Drake, but it wouldn't be a slap on the wrist. Those are leagues where officials are valued and protected. Respected.

Baseball? No respect at all, which is all kinds of ironic considering players and managers talk all the time about respecting the game, not showing up other people, and so forth. Don't steal third base in a six-run game. Don't bunt late in a no-hit bid. And don't, for the love of God, actually smile and enjoy it when you hit a 450-foot home run. Drop your head and get around the bases as if you don't want to be out there at all. That's how you Respect The Game.

Idiots.

But when an umpire looks at a moving 93-mph fastball that starts a few inches above the knees on the inside corner and then starts to sink farther down and dart farther inside -- and the umpire decides in that split-second to call the pitch a strike -- it's OK to get in the ump's face and let him know how f---ing horse---- he is. That's respecting the game. That's not showing up anyone.

Idiots.

This is a problem that baseball has tolerated since its earliest days. You probably know about the Ernie Shore perfect game* from 1917, when he came out of the bullpen with nobody out and a runner on first base in the first inning, and then -- after the runner was caught stealing -- retired the next 26 batters. You probably even know the starting pitcher Shore replaced was Babe Ruth, who was ejected after walking the leadoff batter and arguing the strike zone with umpire Brick Owens.

But did you know that Babe Ruth punched Owens in the head, right there on the field?

And did you know that Ruth was suspended, according to every account I could find, for no more than 10 days?

For punching an umpire in the head. On the field.

That came two years after Reds manager Charley Herzog showed his displeasure with umpire Cy Rigler by taking his metal-spiked shoe and stomping Rigler's foot. Herzog was suspended just five games for that. That was 1915. More than 80 years later, Alomar spits in Hirschbeck's face and gets the same five games. That's baseball -- same as it ever was.

It's always been a scary thing, this tension between umpires and the players/managers who oppose them. It's not a fair fight, not on any level. The player or manager is the star, the umpire the hired hand. The player is at the peak of his prime physically, while the umpire is almost always older and often heavier, sloppier.

Umpires are vulnerable physically, professionally and even emotionally, and on top of that they are the perceived bad guy. Home or away, the crowd loves it when a player or manager freaks out on an umpire -- but when it's someone from the home team freaking out on an umpire? The crowd loves it in a lustful, hateful way. This is the closest thing you'll ever see to Christians vs. Lions, and the crowd wants to see the lion feed itself.

And baseball lets it happen.

Leo Durocher kicked dirt on umpires. So did Billy Martin. They were some of the most successful managers of their time, and that's how they treated umpires -- by kicking dirt on them. They were usually ejected, yes, but not suspended. Message to the world? That sort of behavior is tolerated. Umpires are not worthy of respect. Go ahead, Mr. Manager or Mr. Player. If you can tolerate being ejected from a game, baseball can tolerate you kicking dirt on the umpire.

And you wonder why some umps -- OK, most umps -- call a game with an angry chip on their shoulder? I don't wonder. I understand it. I get it. They spend hours being bullied by bigger, stronger, younger, richer athletes. And when it happens, 40,000 people are screaming for blood. The ump's blood.

Someday we'll see that blood. And when we see it, I'll blame the player who spilled it, sure. But I'll also blame baseball -- decades of baseball, commissioners past and present -- for letting it happen.