Judging the Royals

Those white wristbands: Are big-league umpires too thin-skinned?

Umpire Chris Guccione wore a white wristband on Saturday to protest the escalating verbal attacks on umpires and their strong objection to the Office of the Commissioner’s response to the verbal attacks.
Umpire Chris Guccione wore a white wristband on Saturday to protest the escalating verbal attacks on umpires and their strong objection to the Office of the Commissioner’s response to the verbal attacks. AP

On Saturday night the Indians beat the Royals 5-0 and Kansas City is now 7 ½ games back in the American League Central.

The game lasted 2 hours and 50 minutes, and the Royals’ offensive high point was finding out how hard Eric Hosmer can hit a baseball and still not get a hit.

In the first inning Hosmer hit a high change-up, and according to the people who measure this kind of stuff, the ball had an exit speed of 107 mph, but still found its way into Carlos Santana’s first baseman’s mitt.

It was that kind of night.

But all ballgames, even 5-0 losses, have their points of interest, and here’s one of them.

Trevor Bauer shows up the umpire, then apologizes

In the third inning Trevor Baur had two outs and Lorenzo Cain in a 2-2 count. Bauer threw a fastball that, according to MLB’s Gameday, was well within the zone for strike three. Bauer was walking off the mound toward his dugout when he got the news that home plate umpire Marvin Hudson had called the pitch a ball.

Bauer’s premature departure violated baseball etiquette.

Umpires can be very touchy and they hate it when, before the umpire makes his call, a hitter assumes a pitch was a ball and starts walking toward first base or a pitcher assumes a pitch was a strike and starts walking off the mound.

Both actions fall under the category of “showing up” the umpire.

It lets everyone in the stands know the player thinks the umpire got it wrong and players are supposed to keep those opinions private.

Here’s how that works:

Hitters can disagree with an umpire’s call as long as they don’t turn their heads and look back at the umpire. They can speak their minds, to a certain degree, as long as they keep looking at the pitcher or pretend to smooth out the dirt in the batter’s box.

Looking directly at the umpire might not turn a hitter into stone, but it’s got a decent chance of turning him into an out. Once a player shows up an umpire, he has to worry about umpire retaliation:

If he’s a hitter, will those borderline balls become borderline strikes?

If he’s a pitcher, will those borderline strikes become borderline balls?

A player who shows up an umpire is expected to apologize and it’s best if the apology is just as public as the insult. As Bauer left the field at the end of the third inning, he looked at the umpire and tapped his chest; the universal sign for “my bad.”

But it was easier for Bauer to apologize because, after he went on to walk Cain, the Royals center fielder didn’t score.

If a pitcher thinks he got a bad call and that bad call turns into a run, he might walk by the umpire and say, “That run’s on you.”

And that brings us to…

White wristbands for umpires

When home plate umpire Marvin Hudson missed that pitch he was wearing a white wristband and, just in case you haven’t heard the story, here it is.

After Ian Kinsler went after umpire Angel Hernandez – Kinsler suggested Hernandez find another job – some umpires decided to wear white wristbands during Saturday’s games. The umpires were protesting “escalating verbal attacks” by players.

The umpires were also upset that the league didn’t punish Kinsler more harshly, although his manager, Brad Ausmus, said Kinsler was fined and: “It’s the biggest fine I’ve ever seen Major League Baseball give a player.”

Ausmus was also surprised by the umpires’ sudden sensitivity; he said he’d witnessed a lot of arguments and umpires usually gave as good as they get. In the old days, umpires might have been tougher.

But these days, some umpires might get their feelings hurt more easily.

Instant replay is letting us see when an umpire misses a call; it’s no longer a matter of conjecture. Strike zone grids – which players and umpires agree aren’t totally accurate – are letting us see when an umpires misses a pitch.

Because their mistakes are being made public, some umpires might feel under attack, especially the umpires missing those calls and pitches, and that makes them thin-skinned.

But Kinsler’s sin was to say publicly what many players say privately: there are big league umpires well-known for having a bad strike zone and yet those umpires continue to have jobs.

After one Royals player spent the day swinging at the first pitch he saw, off the record he confessed it had to do with the umpire behind the plate; he wasn’t going to let that umpire get him down in the count or punch him out on a bad call. The umpire’s reputation was changing the game for the worse.

And if a player complains about bad umpires, he might get “The biggest fine I’ve ever seen Major League Baseball give a player.”

Since Kinsler is being singled out by the umpires, fewer players might be willing to speak their minds publicly, but that won’t stop players from believing that there are bad umpires and those umpires continued to be employed.

The World Umpires Association said the wristbands would be worn until their concerns were taken seriously.

But if baseball ever takes the players’ concerns seriously, some of those umpires wearing white wristbands will be out of a job.

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