Posted May 06, 2013

Bryce Harper and the most egregious player vs. umpire incidents of the season

Umpires
Bryce Harper, Natioanls

Bryce Harper thought he checked his swing on this pitch, but umpire John Hirschbeck disagreed. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Washington’s Bryce Harper was ejected in the top of the first inning of Sunday’s game between the Nationals and the Pirates for arguing a check-swing call on what was ruled a third strike. Though, as we shall see it was hardly the first or even most notable incident of an umpire vs. player run-in this season, it was nonetheless notable for a few reasons.

Perhaps most curious was the fact that there appeared to be two blown calls on the pitch that added up to the correct result. The 2-2 pitch from Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez — a low, sweeping curveball that looked like it crossed the plate above the knee before diving below the strike zone — seemed to be a strike (and was, per the pitch-track graphic on the Nationals’ TV broadcast), but home plate umpire Bob Davidson ruled it a ball. That led Harper to believe he caught a break only to have Davidson appeal to third base umpire John Hirschbeck, who called Harper out on a swing it didn’t appear he took. Indeed, Harper had taken an almost identical check swing on the previous pitch on which no appeal was made and no swing was called.

So, Harper struck out as he should have but for the wrong reason. Harper then lingered at home plate and stared in disbelief at Hirschbeck. Hirschbeck immediately started screaming and walking toward Harper, but what he was doing was warning Harper that if he didn’t leave the batter’s box he was going to be ejected. Hirschbeck went so far as to send the Nationals’ third base coach, Trent Jewett, to protect his player. However, Harper lingered a little too long for Hirschbeck’s taste, and when Harper finally turned out of the box and flipped his bat away and dropped his helmet, though those actions were not demonstrable, Hirschbeck ejected him.

There have been a number of high-profile player player-umpire run-ins this season, but there have been just 10 incidents leading to player ejections in 918 games thus far. One of those incidents was the Carlos Quentin/Zack Greinke brawl back on April 11, which resulted in four players being kicked out but had nothing to do with the umpires. Sam Holbrook, who was the home plate umpire and crew chief in that game and thus issued those ejections, is the only umpire to toss a player on more than one occasion this season, but, again, the Quentin/Greinke incident had nothing to do with him, which leaves baseball with no serial ejectors thus far in the early going.

In fact, even with manager and coach ejections included, only one other umpire, Jim Reynolds, has issued an ejection on more than one occasion and he was justified in doing so both times. Reynolds tossed Diamondbacks shortstop Cliff Pennington on April 13 when Pennington reacted to Reynolds’ third strike call by slamming his bat on home plate, breaking the barrel, and he booted A’s pitching coach Curt Young on April 25 when Young used a third-inning mound visit  as an opportunity to argue a check-swing call on a 1-1- pitch from earlier in the inning.

Altogether, six of the player ejections have stemmed from ball/strike calls (including check swings), three, including the Quentin incident, have been the result of hit batsmen, and just one followed a disputed safe/out call on the bases. Here then are the five most problematic umpire-player run-ins from the season to date, not all of which have resulted in an actual ejection of the player in question:

1. Tom Hallion vs. David Price, April 28

Hallion called a two-out, 1-2 pitch from Price that appeared to catch the strike zone a ball. Price disagreed. After the batter, Dewayne Wise, grounded out to Price on the next pitch to end the inning, Hallion approached Price as he headed toward the dugout and the two exchanged words. After much chirping from various Rays on the bench, Hallion ejected Tampa Bay pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. After the game, Price claimed that Hallion told him to “throw the ball over the [explative] plate.” Hallion responded by calling Price “a liar.” Price responded by going on a Twitter rant in which he questioned Hallion’s character. Hallion, Price, Hellickson and fellow Rays pitcher and bench jockey Matt Moore were all fined for the incident, which didn’t get out of line on the field but should have stayed there.

2. Marty Foster vs. Ben Zobrist, April 8

With two-outs in the ninth inning and the tying run on base, home plate umpire Marty Foster called a full-count curveball from Joe Nathan to Ben Zobrist that was a half a foot outside and low a strike, putting a 5-4 Rangers win in the books instead of putting the go-ahead run on base, the tying run in scoring position and bringing Evan Longoria to the plate. Foster, who as I illustrated at the time, regularly calls pitches way outside to lefthanders strikes, admitted after the game that he had blown the call (“had I had a chance to do it again, I wouldn’t call that pitch a strike”).

3. CB Bucknor vs. Matt Albers, April 6

With the Indians’ Albers pitching, Rays shorstop Yunel Escobar tried to stretch a single into a double and was thrown out by a fair distance. Except that Bucknor ruled that Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis missed the tag. Replays showed that Bucknor blew the call (Kipnis got Escobar on the foot and the knee before he reached the bag). Escobar scored on a single by the next hitter and after final out of that inning, Albers gave Bucknor an earful and was ejected from the game.

4. John Hirschbeck vs. Bryce Harper, May 5

I rank this here not as much for Hirschbeck’s actions as for the fact that this ejection followed two bad calls. Here’s the video:

5. Sam Holbrook vs. B.J. Upton, April 19

Holbrook called Upton out on a full-count fastball at the knees that did indeed look like a strike from Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez. Upton disagreed and squawked over his shoulder at Holbrook while walking toward the dugout. However, when Holbrook made a shooing motion with his hand, it inflamed Upton, who then got in Holbrook’s face and earned an ejection.

Said Upton after the game, “We had our disagreements about the pitch. Obviously I didn’t agree with it. He thought it was a strike. I can live with that. But the shooing away part — no, I’m a grown man. You just don’t do that.”

Bonus: Chad Fairchild vs. Cody Ross, April 20

As a counterpoint to the above, this is the most egregious incident thus far this season of a player earning an ejection by overreacting to an umpire’s call. Here, Ross, the Diamondbacks outfielder, is called out on a pitch that very much looked like a strike, throws his bat way up in the air in a manner that would seem to earn an automatic ejection, then, when he is ejected, spins on his heel and goes crazy on home plate umpire Fairchild.

Ross apparently didn’t think the bat toss was worthy of an ejection because, as he said after the game, he was reacting out of frustration and didn’t even disagree with the call. So, it was the ejection, not the strike call that set him off. Still, I don’t know how a batter can fire a bat in the air like that after a called third strike and be surprised when he’s ejected. It certainly didn’t faze Ryan Braun.

24 comments
marcprodrigues
marcprodrigues

Does anybody copyedit this stuff? That "Though," made me cringe...

Slick
Slick

Upton had no business arguing that strike. He is batting like a 100 with a boatload of strkeouts.  Definitely not earning his 15 million the Braves and Frank Wren are paying him. He is turning into another free agent bust like Uggla and Lowe to mention a couple. I disagree on the Harper ejection about the pitch being a strike.  He didn't swing and that pitch never get's called a strike by the tiny strike zone most umpires have these days. I would be very frustrated if I were pitching these days. I see way more missed strikes than balls called strikes. I guess it is better than the old days when certain bartender umpires were calling strikes a foot off the plate in a playoff game.

TomTinnish
TomTinnish

First you have billionaire owners, and millionaire players. Now you have umps who want a piece of the action. Build a bridge and get over it

MarkHannig
MarkHannig

Don't know about some of these ejections, but I think Upton deserved his, shut and get back in the dugout.

Alan3
Alan3

I wonder if we should read anything into the fact that every one of these calls went against the visiting team.

Sam25
Sam25

Right or wrong.  Nobody seems to have any respect for others anymore.  Most of the comments here sound like we should just let the players behave like big overgrown babies because they get paid tons of money and we pay tons of money to see them on the field.

Anaximenes1
Anaximenes1

bryce is tired of umpires not giving him respect---stars like that want the calls

Rick in Huahin!
Rick in Huahin!

MLB umpires are just the worst! They have the shortest fuse and really think their poop doesnt stink!

Be a hockey official and see how far that gets you!!!!! Big fat tubs of goo most of them!

duckfan59
duckfan59

worst thing about the harper ejection is that he's on my fantasy team. that's lost at-bats i won't be getting back, mr. umpire.

MikeWendlandt
MikeWendlandt

Worst one ever was when Ed Rapuano essentially charged the mound against (then) Brewers pitcher Dave Bush after Bush didn't agree with a ball four call that was blown. I've never seen an umpire so heated and in a players face.

duckfan59
duckfan59

Used to be the umpires would avoid confrontation and give the players the benefit of the doubt until they pushed too hard and then they were ejected. Now, the umps seem to think they are part of the show and seek out confrontation when they could turn and walk away. Umps need to get a grip on their egos and realize the fans aren't there to see THEM.

SephirothDZX
SephirothDZX

I have no numbers to back it up but it does feel like umpires are provoking these confrontations a lot more than they used to back in the day. The David Price incident is a perfect example, the whole ordeal would have never happened if the ump would have just stayed by home plate and let Price get it out of his system.

Also, that Braun reaction is pretty great.

Paulie3323
Paulie3323

Frankly, I feel like the umps see it as their responsibility (wrongly) to help mature the young superstars of the league. I'm no Harper fan, but I am impressed with how well he has handled all the pressure and attention thus far. I know at 20, I wouldn't have been able to.

jdkelley47
jdkelley47

Not a Harper fan, not a National's fan, but saw the eject and Hirschbeck was way out of line.  He should be suspended by the league (yes I meant Hirschbeck)

m.guszak
m.guszak

Well, the fact of the matter is we all buy tickets to games and watch TV so as to watch the calls of Hirschbeck. I mean, I am pretty sure that is what Hirschbeck thinks. I am so sick of these umps instigating. Too many provoke players, which they should not be doing.

Winger7
Winger7

I have no statistical basis for saying this, but it seems to me that the umpires have been going after players more than they used to.  You never saw umps following after players, but now you do.

John NoLastName
John NoLastName

You know, I'll bet that once or twice in the 100+ year history of Major League Baseball, players and umps have jawed at each other just a bit.

What news, eh?


N
N

@MarkHannig Upton is probably one of the two(with David Price, for much the same reason - the Umpire instigating the confrontation) who didn't deserve it, to me. He's absolutely right. The Umpire instigated the situation as Upton was walking away. Players argue calls all the time in the manner that Upton did. They briefly have their say and walk away, and the game keeps going. In this case, as Upton is walking away the Umpire did the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do and inflamed the situation by gesturing at Upton.

The Upton ejection is a prime example(the Price one is even better, the Umpire chased Price down to start the fight) of what is wrong with the ejection system. The Umpire escalates the situation, then ejects the player when they get bored of the argument that they started.

stinky1
stinky1

@duckfan59 Harper intentionally showed up the umpire. Respect the officials.

SephirothDZX
SephirothDZX

After watching the Hirschbeck video I have to say that ump deserves to get reprimanded by the league after that. Harper's reaction wasn't anything that dramatic and Hirschbeck reacted like he was looking for a fight.

duckfan59
duckfan59

@stinky1 @duckfan59 respect is a two-way street. lately the umps have been going out of their way to seek confrontation. as i posted earlier, they need to check their egos. no one is paying for tickets or turning on the games to see the umps.