Jordan Smith, Rookie Etiquette

How to Make an Inauspicious Outing Even Worse, No. 762

By most measures, Jordan Smith has had a fine rookie season for the Cincinnati Reds. He’s compiled a 3.32 ERA in 37.1 innings out of the bullpen, with 22 strikeouts against only nine walks. He’s even racked up a save.

On Monday, however, he learned a valuable lesson in rookie comportment.

In what was by far his worst appearance as a big leaguer—and probably his worst appearance ever—Smith threw nine pitches to two batters, only one of which was a strike. After walking the second man, he was removed by manager Dusty Baker.

Which is pretty much where things fell apart. On his way off the field, Smith decided to have a chat about the strike zone with plate ump John Hirschbeck.

At this point he would have been well served to observe the first rule of rookiedom (generally more valid in years past than today, but still rock-solid when it comes to umpires): Don’t speak unless spoken to.

Words led to shouting; shouting led to ejection. (Watch it here.)

With his display of ill temper, Smith undoubtedly made it more difficult for himself the next time he sees Hirschbeck. Much like veteran players, many umps like to test rookies, just a little, to see what they’re made of.

“The longer you play, the more rope you get,” said Andy Van Slyke, describing the phenomenon.

Whether Hirschbeck had been intentionally squeezing Smith is unclear, but there’s certainly precedent to fall back on.

Take Wade Miller. In the pitcher’s major league debut for Houston in 1999, a start against Arizona, umpire Rich Rieker was being extremely judicious with his strike calls.

After one pitch that split the plate was called a ball, Miller gave the ump a protracted glare. That was all his catcher, Randy Knorr, needed to see. He quickly trotted out for a mound visit.

“I said, ‘Wade, man, just get through today. If you get through today, you’ll be fine. Just don’t show up the umpire. He’s testing you. I’m trying to work him back there, don’t be snapping the ball on him or anything like that.’ ”

Miller ended up allowing seven runs over three innings, but ultimately passed the test. The final batter he faced, Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson, was called out on strikes.

“As he walked off the field,” said Knorr, “I think the umpire said, ‘Good job, Wade.’ ”

– Jason

10 thoughts on “How to Make an Inauspicious Outing Even Worse, No. 762

  1. Really interesting. I read them all and always learn something, not just about baseball, but about life. Thanks, Jason

  2. What drives me insane is Hirshbeck’s complete lack of restraint. We constantly talk about how MLB players are role models for younger players…what about umps? I am an umpire and it makes me sick to know that up and coming umpires see that this is how one of the “pros” handles a tense situation. I especially am referring to the very last thing he said to him as he left the field. I am pretty sure it rhymes with duck moo. It really hacks me off that these guys aren’t held to the same level of scrutiny that the players are in a public forum. I am pretty sure that if a manager treated him like he treated that player, the manager would have received at minimum a fine.

    1. What you say has significant merit, but it’s important to recognize that umpires have a Code, just like players. Those who recognize it inevitably fare better than those who don’t.

      Umps are also like players in that if they get the job done, they can get away with a large amount of ancillary marginal behavior. It’s always nice to see restraint in an argument — from players, managers and umps — but without audio of this particular conversation, I’m reluctant to overtly criticize Hirschbeck.


      1. But, even with the code of the umpires (which I am pretty well versed in), is it right for him to verbally spit on him like that? You don’t need the audio to see what he said at the end of the conversation. I, for one, think that the umpire’s “code” is pretty much BS. If there is a “code” out there that says they shouldn’t call a strike a strike, that is BS. Try that in the NFL, or the NHL, or in the NBA (ok, bad example) and you won’t be working there anymore. But, you do it as a ML umpire, and you are basically rewarded. I just think that the umpires go out of their way sometimes to make themselves the show. They could learn a thing or two from NFL officials.

      2. It appears to be a matter of setting the tone with young players, as a measure of insuring future stability in the relationship. This is in the umpire’s best interest (if not always that of the player).

        As for umpires becoming part of the show, I couldn’t agree more that it can occasionally reach the point of travesty. I’ve spoken with numerous big league umps about the likes of Ron Luciano (author of four books about his career, notably The Umpire Strikes Back), who was easily the best-known ump of his generation (largely through his own efforts at self-promotion, both on and off the field), and one of the least respected by his peers.

  3. If you ever want to know how far reaching the influence is on lower-level umps, just go read some of the umpiring forums out there. Some of the umpires on these forums are flat out morons. All they talk about is how they would run this sorry SOB if they even looked cross-eyed at them, or how they don’t take crap from anybody. Umpires should be working for the players’ respect just as much as the players work for theirs. Not to say that there aren’t good umpires out there, but it starts at the top. There is no reason an umpire should have to take abuse, but they have to understand that it is going to happen. The more they can do to strengthen the relationship, the better the game will be. It is obvious that there are certain umpires out there who don’t care about that aspect. They have done their time, and they really have no concern for the future of other umpires, so they ignore that important aspect of being a team player for the sport. I just get sick of the whole idea that umpires in general are abused stepchildren who have to stand together or someone is going to take advantage of them. They have created this relationship, and it is going to take some strong leadership and radical changes to get it to a point where it doesn’t hurt the game. Sorry, I could go on forever about this! 🙂

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