Richard Justice

Players must take bad with the good from umps

Justice: Must take bad with good from umps

Players must take bad with the good from umps
Oh, isn't it awful what that Brett Lawrie did? Who does he think he is to throw his batting helmet? What if he'd put his eye out? Or hurt that poor umpire? Think of the children, Brett. Think of the poor example you're setting. Now every little kid in Canada will think it's OK to react when an umpire makes a couple of horse dip calls.

(Don't you love it when a sportswriter gets on his high horse and lectures others on how to behave? Other than the Ben's Chili Bowl stand at Nationals Park, it's my favorite thing in baseball.)

The truth is that it's not OK for Brett Lawrie or any other Major League hitter to react the way he did. The Blue Jays love that Lawrie plays with emotion and that he's a bundle of energy and nerves. He plays with an edge and is one of the reasons the Blue Jays are going to be in contention all summer long.

Still, players can't react to bad umpiring. They just can't. That has been the rule for more than 100 years. They have to trust that Major League Baseball is evaluating umpires more than ever before.

When an umpire -- in this case, Bill Miller -- blows a couple of calls, he's virtually certain of hearing about it from the home office. Of course Lawrie was furious. He should have been. He got rung up on a pair of pitches that weren't strikes.

He's a young kid, full of fire and vinegar. He lost it, and even though virtually every other Major League hitter has felt some of the same emotions, almost all of them have disciplined themselves to walk back to the dugout and hope the umpire appreciates that he didn't have his mistake pointed out for all the world to see.

It's as tough as anything players are asked to do. It's tougher than hitting a Stephen Strasburg fastball, tougher than spending an hour in the weight room after a four-hour game, tougher than all the red-eye flights combined.

Besides, it IS different now. Once upon a time, umpires might carry a grudge for a few weeks. After all, they're only human, and ballplayers sometimes don't understand how impossibly difficult an ump's job is.

Grudges are tough things to carry now. High-def TV exposes mistakes. How annoying must it be for an umpire to have a bang-bang call at first base replayed 12 times, and suddenly with the video slowed down and the play shown from a fifth angle, it appears the ump got the call wrong?

"He blew that one," the television announcer will say.

No, he didn't. If it takes eight replays slowed down to super slow motion, then the umpire DIDN'T blow the call. He was as close to right as humanly possible.

OK, before you bring it up, I'm voting no on robotic umpires. Even with strike zones wandering all over the place some nights, I'm not voting to replace the men in blue with something from Big Blue.

If someone wants to expand instant replay, if there's a way to do it smoothly, with, say, a fifth umpire monitoring television replays, that's fine by me.

But baseball can't allow itself to become football, where replays slow the game to a crawl. Please don't tell me the NFL just wants to get the call right. Yeah, right. If it's so important to get the call right, why is it left up to coaches to challenge most calls?

And while coaches are trying to figure out whether to use one of their challenges, the other team will quickly run a play. Is that part of "getting it right?"

Interestingly, Commissioner Bud Selig has an informal kitchen cabinet of current and former general managers, managers, players, etc., and while he constantly picks their brains about the state of the game, not a single one of them has advocated expanded instant if it means interrupting the pace of the game.

Baseball is almost certainly headed for expanded instant replay, but not until it can be within the flow of the game.

And the strike zone won't be included. Some traditions are sacred. It's one thing to throw a few Interleague games into the schedule. It's something else entirely to switch to robotic umpires.

As for Brett Lawrie, someone is going to have to sit him down and tell him how the world works. Lawrie needs to have a cup of coffee with a certain American League closer who got squeezed badly on a couple of pitches last month and ended up blowing a save.

Afterward, a friend approach and offered condolences.

"I don't see how you keep your cool," he told the closer.

It was one of those days when the plate umpire was having a real bad day, and besides that, is known to have a temper. Let's just say he's like a lot of the rest of us in that he does not appreciate having his mistakes pointed out.

"You have no choice," the closer said. "If you react, it's only going to get worse."

He knew he'd see that same plate umpire a bunch more times and that respect is a two-way street. He believed the umpire had squeezed him, but he was absolutely certain he hadn't done it on purpose.

He believes that professional responsibility includes everyone, players, coaches and umpires alike. He could have made his point about the bad calls by losing his temper. But what would he really have gained?

That's what Brett Lawrie must understand. Umpires work hard and are evaluated critically. They appreciate how difficult it is to play the game. But players must have some understanding, too.

Professionalism isn't just playing hard and respecting teammates and the fans and the media. It's respecting the men in blue, too.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.