Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, there was a close play at first base. A young umpire, Clint Fagan, called Yadier Molina out. Molina slammed his helmet down, and Fagan kicked him out of the game. Then Molina really got mad, and then Mike Matheny got mad and he got kicked out too. Molina sort of wrestled around with another umpire, and might get suspended.
All this happened in the third inning. A couple of hours later, Matheny didn't seem to have gotten over it:
"He never said a word to the umpire. He never said a word," said Matheny, who did not hide his dissatisfaction of the call during his postgame press conference. "He was upset because he thought that ball was through and it would be a run for our club. He thought we had a rally going. Then all of a sudden, he's thrown out. He wasn't even close to talking about the call. It was just frustration on himself.
"I just don't understand how that call can be made if you're not out looking for it, especially from a young umpire," Matheny continued. "It's frustrating, because that changed the game for us. Now, I'm not saying that if he stays in the game, we win. But I'm saying that that wasn't necessary. That's all there was to it."
"I just don't understand how that call can be made if you're not out looking for it, especially from a young umpire," Matheny continued...
Okay, so here's the thing ... The umpires have three options when a player abuses his equipment:
1. Automatically eject player;
2. Completely ignore abuse of equipment; or
3. Exercise some judgment.
The players (and the managers) don't like Option #1, because that would mean more players getting ejected. Nobody else likes Option #2, because that would mean a profusion of slammed helmets, bats, and anything else that might be at hand. Which leaves Option #3, which is actually what we've got: Judgment.
Funny thing about judgment, though? Sometimes one of the involved parties is going to disagree with the judgment. Sometimes the judgment's going to be poor. In this case, it probably was. But just as you're going to occasionally see incorrect judgment calls elsewhere, you're occasionally going to see umpires misjudge a player's intent.
Again, the only way to avoid this situation is to go with Options #1 or #2. My preference, actually, would be Option #1.
Another quote from Matheny: ""If you're going to throw him out for that, then you're going to have to throw out half of the team. They get mad sometimes when they get out and they make a good play."
Players get mad all the time. You get mad all the time. I get mad all the time. We don't slam our helmets to the ground every time we get mad because there are consequences, most of the time. If there were an ironclad rule saying you can't slam your helmet down, no matter what, I can promise you that a) players would still get mad sometimes, but b) helmet-slamming would drop significantly. Because yes, Mike Matheny, players can learn.
But until then, and for as long as players retain the right to slam stuff to the ground without necessarily getting ejected, these things will happen. Because when you ask umpires to read minds, sometimes they're going to be wrong. Old umpires, young umpires, and everywhere-in-between umpires.
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