In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier looks at how the theatrics in the American Association related to a recent set of umpire calls could actually be doing more harm than good, making it time to reset the relationship between the players and managers and the league’s umpires.
A Call for Peace in the American Association
There is truly no sport like baseball. It is team sport that makes the one-on-one battles the main feature. It is a game where failure is the norm, and where stats are held with such honor that they are almost worshipped.
It is also a sport where the oddities of the game have become as important to its history as any stat, championship, or award. Where players know that hitting two home runs in a game is likely to get you hit the next time you come to the plate. Where one of the games more prominent players is known as much for him barreling over a catcher during the All-Star game as he is for being the all-time hit leader.
It is also a sport where the confrontations between managers and umpires have become legendary. Men like Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Dallas Green, and Lou Pinella made arguing with officials an art. Dirt kicking, base throwing, and cursing at one another two inches from each other’s faces became epic events that fans of the game still discuss today.
These kinds of things make for good theater at the Major League level, where the league is getting the very best of the best, including in its talent of umpires, but this is an entirely different case when you are talking about independent baseball. Here, leagues struggle to find talented officials and the berating of umpires by players and managers makes it even harder to find top talent. This is the challenge that the American Association faces, as recent incidents demonstrate that there is a need for a reboot between players, managers, and umpires.
A Tough Stretch of Games
First off, it is important to establish that there are legitimate issues with a few umpires in the American Association. A couple have become extremely confrontational and there have been some questionable calls that have occurred over the last two seasons that go beyond head scratchers. It almost appears as if a few are looking for a way to insert themselves into the game.
However, the vast majority of the men in blue do a good job. They handle themselves in a very professional manner, even allowing some rather egregious vitriol to be spewed at them during a controversial call, allowing the manager to blow off some steam, without even giving the skipper an early shower.
It should also be noted that umpires make mistakes like anyone else. Players make errors, managers make wrong decisions, umpires make bad calls. That is going to happen and it is expected. It is a part of the game.
When these things do occur, there is an expectation that it is going to create tension, which may become volatile. Players know their chance of making it back to affiliate ball is dependent upon their stats, and two more RBI or one less error could be the difference in them getting a contract or eventually moving onto another career. Thus, a bad call is seen as an assault on their livelihood, not to mention that these guys want to win.
This month we have seen two such examples. The first occurred on August 7, when Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks outfielder Brennan Metzger was called out of strikes. An angry Metzger argued the ruling until he was eventually ejected. Unwilling to just leave the field, the outfielder dragged a garbage can behind home plate, and appeared to repeatedly yell at home plate umpire Mike Jarboe, “Go to your home,” as he pointed to the garbage can.
The theatrics were funny. There is no denying that. It made Sportscenter. However, the event did not end there. The following day the team ran promos during the game about garbage and Metzger was the spokesman on the stadium board.
Reports are that the dispute did not end there. After the final contest of the series, at least one player from Fargo-Moorhead confronted the umpires.
The Chicago Dogs were the team what had witnessed this event (they were playing the RedHawks at the time). On August 16, their manager, Butch Hobson, opted for his own theatrics. After his player was called out on strikes, the Skipper came out to argue the call and was ejected. He then asked for a bat from one of his players, mimicking hitting a home run (Air baseball?), then began a slow trot around the bases that lasted about a minute, getting high fives along the way and after he reached the dugout.
Once again, this got a lot of attention. Hobson had done the act before, but this was his first time pulling out the routine since joining the American Association.
Would You Want to Umpire Here?
There is no doubt that all this makes for good theater, but the question to ask is if it is really good for the league. It is true that any organization wants publicity (as it is pointed out that there is no such thing as bad publicity), but is this kind of thing going to draw good umpires to the league?
First of all, consider Mike Jarboe for a moment. This is an official who has umpired at the AAA and AA levels. That makes him arguably one of the best 500 umpires on the planet, earning him a certain level of respect. Yes, Metzger’s antics were funny when they were spontaneous, but was the continuation of this necessary?
The same can be said of Butch Hobson. Saying something crazy during the heat of an argument or kicking dirt on someone’s shoes when you have just been thrown out are spontaneous events, but when you are pulling something from your bag of tricks to display this is no longer a response to a heated argument, but is a planned display to show the umpire up. No offense to Hobson, but this is pure theatrics at that point.
One thing that the American Association has done extremely well is draw top level talent to the league. This season has seen more than 100 guys who came from the Majors, AAA, or AA levels join one of its 12 teams, and that has not only helped to make the games a lot more enjoyable to watch, it has added a much higher level of credibility.
Can the same be said of umpires? While the antics may be good for a funny segment of ESPN or make USA Today, do they help to get a AA or AAA level ump like Jarboe? If you were a AA umpire who was in need of a job, would you even consider taking a job in the American Association after what you saw and heard the last two weeks?
That is the big concern that the league must have. The incident with the RedHawks already led to Mike Winn, the head of umpires, resigning. That can’t help either.
Time for a Reset
There is no denying that there are a couple of umpires in the American Association who need to go. They are confrontational, make questionable calls on a regular basis, and show a level of arrogance that is simply not warranted, however, the vast majority are doing a solid job at the very least. They live up to the reputation the league is creating and have earned respect.
The managers and players in the American Association must keep this in mind when they come out to argue a call or to share this content with a ruling. Not just to keep the good group of umpires that are already in the league, but also for those who the American Association would covet should they become available.
The best way to accomplish that is to demonstrate a little restraint when it comes to the theatrics. Players and managers need to keep one thing in mind. If they want the highest level of talent in the men in blue, they have to give them a reason to want to join this league. Has the last two weeks given them any reason to want to do so?
By Robert Pannier