TORONTO, CANADA: Brett Lawrie and Manager John Farrell of the Toronto Blue Jays argue a call with Umpire Bill Miller during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)
Tuesday night, there was an incident between Brett Lawrie and home-plate umpire Bill Miller. There didn't need to be, but there was, on account of the humans.
Brett Lawrie plays baseball with a lot of passion. It's my belief that everybody in the major leagues plays baseball with a lot of passion, because you need that drive to get to the major leagues in the first place, but with Brett Lawrie, that passion's a little easier to see than it is with a lot of other guys. I just entered Brett Lawrie's name in our editorial photo tool. Here's one of the most recent results:
Brett Lawrie's got energy. Maybe he won't have so much energy if and when he becomes a world-weary 34-year-old, but he's got that much energy now as a 22-year-old. He's got hustle that makes people love him and attitude that makes people love him or hate him, and all in all there are parallels to be drawn between him and Bryce Harper. Among them: Brett Lawrie and Bryce Harper are amazingly good.
So put that in your back pocket, if it wasn't already there. I take you now to Tuesday night, when the Rays were playing the Blue Jays in Toronto. Lots of things happened that were interesting before the bottom of the ninth, but we're skipping ahead to the bottom of the ninth. The Rays were leading the Jays 4-3, and they had Fernando Rodney on the mound. Rodney struck out Eric Thames, bringing Lawrie to the plate. Rodney fell behind Lawrie 3-and-1, and Lawrie took a fastball.
It's an amusing .gif on its own. Lawrie takes what he assumes is a ball and makes off for first, before home-plate umpire Bill Miller makes a call either way. Miller calls it a strike - perhaps to teach Lawrie a lesson, perhaps because he believed it was a strike, perhaps both. Lawrie hears the call and stops in his tracks. Now he has to return to the batter's box all embarrassed-like. He looks bad on account of his presumptuousness.
That pitch, by the way:
So, full count. Lawrie takes a changeup.
And here's that pitch:
This is still kind of amusing, because for the second pitch in a row, Lawrie takes off for first assuming a ball, and instead the pitch is called a strike. It very quickly ceases to be amusing.
Maybe that's still amusing, I don't know. I mean, here we have a player hitting an umpire with his helmet and then getting in his face. But here we have a player hitting an umpire with his helmet and then getting in his face.
Brett Lawrie is going to get suspended. Of that there can be absolutely no doubt. Maybe he will have already been suspended by the time this post is published. The only question is how long he'll be suspended for - initially, and then after he appeals. Players don't always get suspended for arguing with umpires or saying mean things to umpires, but players do always get suspended for hitting umpires with their batting helmets. I assume? Maybe Lawrie is the first person to do it. In that event, he'll establish a precedent.
Understanding who Lawrie is, and understanding how competitive the environment can be, and how frustrating the environment can be, I think Lawrie can be ... well, no, "partially forgiven" isn't right, because Brett Lawrie hurled his helmet at an umpire who wasn't looking. But I don't think Lawrie intended to hit Miller. He didn't throw his helmet directly at Miller. I think it was more about Lawrie trying to get Miller's attention and express how angry he was at that moment, and while Lawrie did a dumb thing, many of us do incredibly dumb things when we're pissed off. Personally, I hit this desk. I love this desk! And I don't want to break my fingers. But when I'm mad, I'm not really thinking. Lawrie was mad, and he wasn't really thinking. That doesn't make things okay, but it makes them understandable.
Now Lawrie'll be suspended for a while. Immediately, he was ejected, and manager John Farrell was ejected. They were each ejected after arguing after this happened:
Not that he did a great job of expressing himself, but Brett Lawrie had a case. John Farrell had a case. Instead of having a runner on first with one out in a one-run game, the Blue Jays had no runners with two out in a one-run game, less a third baseman and a manager. They will continue to be without that third baseman in the future, beginning at some time and lasting for some time.
That's a pretty big swing, and one can't ignore the influence of the human element. Miller had called pitches off the plate strikes earlier in the game. From one perspective, hitters should've adjusted to his zone. But you can't just adjust to a new strike zone on the fly like that, however reasonable it sounds on paper, and Lawrie had good reason to be upset. He might have even suspected that the strikes were called in part to punish him for jogging to first. Maybe the strikes were called in part to punish him for jogging to first. Bill Miller's human element punched Brett Lawrie out, and that incensed Brett Lawrie's human element, which got him ejected and shortly suspended.
In case you're wondering, this isn't building toward some grand, sweeping conclusion. This isn't another article asking for umpires to have their responsibilities reduced, although I wouldn't mind if umpires had their responsibilities reduced. This is more like a thought experiment. We have what happened. Bill Miller called what he called, and Brett Lawrie did what he did. It's a big story that made Lawrie look terrible, and the Blue Jays will be dealing with the consequences for a while. Now consider that no part of this would've happened if strike zones were called automatically. Reduce the umpire responsibilities and you reduce the arguments with umpires, and in this particular instance, Lawrie doesn't act out. The Blue Jays don't get a player suspended, and Lawrie doesn't color his reputation. Going back, we'd look at Delmon Young differently. We might look at Milton Bradley differently, or we might not.
There is so much to dig into here. Why Bill Miller called what he called. Why Brett Lawrie responded how he responded. Whether Brett Lawrie should be suspended. How long Brett Lawrie should be suspended. What this is going to mean for Brett Lawrie in the short- and the long-term future. This is all stuff we'll only be talking about because umpires still do what they've always done, and nothing less. For better or for worse, it's 2012, and baseball is a very human game.