In my many years in and around the game of baseball as a player, coach, umpire, and spectator, as maybe you have too, I’ve seen, heard, and learned a seemingly endless amount of things about baseball, sports in general, people, and life. This past Sunday, while umpiring a morning/afternoon double-header between the visiting Dodgers and hometown Colts, added yet another element or so to these somewhat memorable experiences. Please be careful as you read. You may just learn a lesson or three.
It was a splendid morning for a baseball game. Upper 60’s to mid 70’s as the first seven inning game began. My partner, a former American Legion Baseball teammate, as well as someone I played against and knew since we were teenagers, was the base umpire. I worked behind home plate. We talked as we walked up to the field from the parking lot about kids we knew, coached, the upcoming games, and the eventual 90 degree plus heat that was looming. Both head coaches of these teams in the forty and over league came over, shook our hands, chatted for a few seconds, and provided the game fees. The head coach of the home team took us through the ground rules, and the game was ready to commence promptly. After the home team catcher threw down to second base, he looked over to me and said, “You’re in for a treat.” I replied, “What might that be?” “Our pitcher. He pounds the zone.” he claimed. Although I’d already seen him pitch before and was aware that there was some verity to his claim, I whispered to the catcher, “Hope so.”
The visiting team batters had a difficult time getting any good wood on the pitches of the home team’s first game hurler. Through the first 5 innings, the visitors were able to manage only 4 baserunners via walk, error, or hit by pitch. Speaking of the latter, that was a scary moment when the right fielder for the away team was hit in the cheek area with a fastball that got away. Fortunately, it did not hit him squarely and he was able to get up and jokingly ask me if he had to go and touch first base. We laughed and I said, “Are you sure you’d touch the correct base?” We laughed, and one of his team mates who heard the exchange chuckled and said, “Yea, he’ll probably touch third instead of first.” The first game ended up being an easy merci rule victory for the home team (i. e. By more than ten runs after five innings). This game was “relatively” drama-less with the exception of maybe a couple balls and strikes disagreements and safe or out inquiries which were handled quietly and properly. Have to mention that each of the players, who happened to be from the visiting team, who had something to say about a called strike or being called out on the bases made errors on easily playable balls hit to them the following inning they were in the field. Both teams agreed we’d have a fifteen minute or so break between games for my partner and I to change, etc.
I’m not sure if it was because they were hungry and/or thirsty (for food/drink), they were tired, or what have you. Yet, the second game of the double-header seemed to bring out the whining, complaining, and even somewhat disrespectful behavior on the part of some of the participants on both sides toward the umpires and members of the opposing teams. It was now mid to upper 80’s and several players on each team were loudly bickering about called balls and strikes as well as safe and out calls on the bases while they were on offense and defense. For example, there were consecutive calls at second base that I made that went against the home team who was in the field at the time. Their second baseman, who was not involved in either tag play, vehemently yell toward me for everyone to hear, “That’s two you got wrong, blue! The last play and now this one! That’s two you messed up!” He then muttered a few other things, which I won’t mention, under his breath that somehow I heard which made me question whether or not he wanted me to hear it. I took a quick glance in his direction and just loudly enough so he could hear it, I said, “Ok.” The very next pitch, the batter hit pop up 3 steps behind the aforementioned second baseman. He promptly settled under it and dropped the ball. With runners on second and third, two runs scored. Couldn’t help feeling a bit bad for him but also thinking, ‘Would you like an opionion of your performance to be publicly and loudly evaluated?’ With a runner on first, the pitcher attempted a pick off play at first. It was a close play, due to the runner not sliding back to the bag, that I called safe. The first baseman proceeded to whine and claim, “I can tag him anywhere. It doesn’t matter where I tag him. He’s out.” “Yes you can.”, I said. Yet, if his foot hits the bag before you tag him, he’s safe.” The pitcher on his own team turned and laughed. The first baseman continued on about how I supposedly didn’t know the rules, etc. I ignored him. A few pitches later, the runner now on second base after a wild pitch, the batter hits a slow roller to the first baseman reminiscent of the ball Mookie Wilson hit to Bill Buckner in Game 6 except this ball was hit directly at the first baseman. He takes a couple of steps up to field the ball and kicks it into foul territory. The batter is safe, the runner on second scored after he made an errant throw to home plate, and the batter went to second on that bad throwing error. Finally, they’re able to get the third out of the inning after the batter, who was up and had just argued a strike call with my partner, swung and missed badly on a breaking ball. He carried on as he walked to his position at shortstop. Starting to see a pattern here?
With the visiting Dodgers in the field, the next inning began with two bases on balls. The next pitch was a groundball to shortstop. Easy double play ball, right? not quite. In line with what had gone on, he booted it allowing a run to score. During this time in the field, the third baseman for the Dodgers began to debate several ball and strike calls. After a walk and passed ball, runners were on second and third with one out. A routine three hop ground ball was hit to third. Somehow, the ball gets past him into left field for an error and two runs score. The Dodgers pitcher, who was likely the eldest of all the participants, then blames things on my partner for not calling strikes. They get the next two Colt batters out to end the inning. So, who leads off the next half of the inning? You guessed it, the pitcher for the Dodgers. He proceeds to get called out on strikes, slam his bat on the plate, and direct insults at my partner. At this point, my partner has no choice but the throw him out of the game and park for continuing the argument which he does. Thankfully after this incident, the final two innings were uneventful.
After the final out, both teams shook hands as did we with members of each team. The pitcher and elder statesman of the Dodgers came back into the park, shook hands, and had some good words with us. A few players from both teams thanked us for “putting up with us”, as they said. Of course, there was one from the host team, who, by the way took an “0 for” and had three errors who was still blaming his unproductive day on the officials. Apparently, he remained totally clueless of the goings on and message of this particular Sunday double-header. Stay clear of the blue, or it’ll come back to haunt you.