To understand what I’m about to say, the first thing you need to do is check out the picture above this story. You’re seeing home plate umpire Ed Hickox stalking toward the Royals dugout, Alcides Escobar looking like someone just accused him of shoplifting a candy bar and Eric Hosmer yelling — or at least speaking forcefully — to Hickox.
Here’s why that’s a big deal (and bear with me, this one takes some explaining).
Let’s go back to the seventh inning of Sunday’s game
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It’s the top of the seventh inning and the Royals have 2-0 lead over the Cleveland Indians. Kansas City reliever Ryan Madson is on the mound and the Indians have runners on first and third and one down.
Madson throws Lonnie Chisenhall a changeup and it’s not a good one; the pitch stays up in the zone and Chisenhall lines it back to the mound. By some combination of luck and/or skill, the ball winds up in Madson’s glove. What Ryan does next sets off a very weird chain of events.
The runner on first — Michael Brantley — has committed a base-running sin: He did not freeze on a line drive. Brantley broke for second base and is now about 30 feet from first base.
Madson lobs the ball like a poorly thrown hand grenade and misses everything he’s aiming at. Hosmer’s headed toward first base, but Madson’s throw isn’t. Eric has to dive back and to his right just to keep the ball on the infield. Hosmer’s lunge knocks the ball down, but it rolls out of his mitt. Eric’s on his hands and knees when he grabs the ball with his bare hand. Hosmer then spins around to a seated position and tags Brantley who’s heading back to first base.
One problem: Hosmer tags Brantley with his mitt and the ball isn’t in it. The ball’s in his bare hand.
Things get even more complicated
Meanwhile, the runner on third base, Francisco Lindor, has some problems of his own. He also breaks forward on the line drive back to the mound, but when Madson catches the ball, Lindor heads back to third base.
Then, seeing Hosmer on the seat of his pants — not a highly recommended throwing position — Francisco breaks for home. Hosmer throws the ball to Salvador Perez, but Lindor beats the throw and is initially ruled safe.
Mike Moustakas then calls for the ball; he wants to appeal the play at third. Moose is 90 percent sure Lindor did not tag up before heading home. Mike thinks Francisco scored way too easily for a guy starting 90 feet away from home plate. Salvy throws the ball to Moose; Mike touches the bag and third base umpire Mike Estabrook makes a safe signal. Estabrook ruled that Lindor tagged up.
Ned Yost eventually comes out of the dugout and wants the umpires to take another look at the play, but it’s the wrong play; Ned wants the umpires to look at the play at first base.
After reviewing the play at first, Brantley is still called safe. Remember, Hosmer had the ball in his hand, not the mitt, when he made the tag.
The umpire’s review
So the Royals have now used and lost their challenge on the play at first, but Ned then asks for an umpire’s review of the play at third. The umpires agree to Ned’s request.
A review of the play at third reveals two things: Lindor did not come within 10 feet of tagging third base and umpire Mike Estabrook was not doing his job. Instead of focusing on third base, Estabrook is watching what’s happening over at first base.
It’s abundantly clear Estabrook blew the call at third and when the play is shown on the scoreboard, the crowd cheers and Mike Moustakas decides not to wait for the review process to confirm what everyone in the stadium already knows; Lindor’s out and the inning is over.
Moustakas wallks off the field before the review process is complete and the rest of the Royals join him.
Umpires do not like to be shown up and what Mike and his teammates are doing is showing up the umpires’ crew. It’s saying, “We don’t need you to confirm what we already know. You guys blew it.”
That appears to make home plate umpire Hickox unhappy and while his associates review the play, he approaches the Royals dugout looking like a guy looking for a guy to eject. That’s when Eric Hosmer steps up and shows some leadership.
How star power affects the game
Like it or not, star power counts for something in the game of baseball.
Ask around and you’ll hear it’s harder than it should be to get a called strike three on Miguel Cabrera when a game is played in Detroit. You might hear also how certain star pitchers get a more generous strike zone. But some of those stars are reluctant to get sideways with the umpires; they want to stay on their good side and continue to get calls that personally benefit them.
When Ed Hickox approaches the Royals dugout, Hosmer — now a certified star player — steps up and confronts him. Hosmer holds up his hand like a cop stopping traffic and, if my lip-reading skills are any good, says: “Wait! Relax!”
Hickox probably wouldn’t have listened if Christian Colon had tried the same thing. Hosmer has stepped between an umpire and his teammates and tried to defuse the situation, and that’s what real team leaders do.
It’s a small moment, but it matters
I was there the day Eric Hosmer came up to the big leagues. Rookies are expected to keep their mouths shut, but when those rookies become veterans, and especially if they become stars, they’re expected to show some leadership. Take the latest batch of rookies under your wing, teach them how big-leaguers behave and when necessary, step up and be vocal.
Show some leadership.
Earlier this season, Hosmer stepped up and talked to Yordano Ventura when Yordano’s emotions were getting the better of him. Sunday, Hosmer stepped up again and protected his teammates from an umpire. These are small moments, but they’re moments that matter. Watch closely and you’ll see Eric Hosmer becoming a team leader.
And by the way; the Royals went on to win the game 3-0.