I’ve been talking to radio hosts across the country over recent weeks in support of The Baseball Codes, and a surprising number have brought up the topic of umpires, and their affect on the unwritten rules.
It can be profound. An ill-timed warning can prevent appropriate retaliation for a Code violation; instead of completing the disrespect-response cycle, they leave it open-ended, to be continued another day. Meanwhile, the offended party is left to stew, which often makes the situation worse than it would have otherwise been.
Sometimes, of course, umpires understand—and, importantly, tolerate—what’s going on, saving their warnings until after the aggrieved team has a chance to respond in kind.
Last night in New York, however, was not one of those times. In the sixth inning, Yankees reliever Sergio Mitre hit Jason Bay in the back with a pitch. There were two outs and nobody on base (the perfect situation for a pitcher with vengeance on his mind), and Bay had homered in his previous two at-bats. Umpire Marvin Hudson immediately issued warnings to both benches.
It all made sense, right up to the 75 mph breaking ball that drilled Bay. That kind of pitch is the least-likely weapon of choice for a pitcher looking to inflict a little pain—which, had the plunking been intentional, would have been precisely Mitre’s point.
Pitchers are expected to deny intention every time they hit a batter, but in Mitre’s case it was justified.
“It was a breaking ball that got away,” he said in the New York Daily News. “I don’t think a warning was needed from that pitch. It was just a breaking ball that backed up, and it just followed him. It was one of those balls where you try and get away, but it keeps following you. It was just a terrible breaking ball.”
The biggest downside for such a warning is that it lends the perception of intent to a pitch for which there wasn’t any. The Mets didn’t take it that way—no Yankees were hit in response (which could also have been due to the warning)—but it would have been tough to blame them if they did.