Call it bad umpiring, if you must, but many will disagree with you.
Legions of fans, in fact, consider it to be horrible umpiring.
It’s inaccurate to say that umpire Bill Welke’s ejection of Clayton Kershaw Wednesday night came from nowhere, but, considering the circumstances, it kind of did.
Those circumstances began Tuesday, when Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo sent an inside pitch buzzing past the head of Arizona’s Gerardo Parra. It was inside, but not dangerously so; that it came close at all was mostly a function of Parra’s squaring around to bunt.
Parra responded by staring down the pitcher. Moments later, he connected for a home run, then loitered in the batter’s box for several long beats. That raised the hackles of both catcher A.J. Ellis, who had words for Parra as he crossed the plate, and the Dodgers’ bench at large—with the leader of the agitated appearing to be Kershaw, who appeared to deliver a message along the lines of “Just wait ’till tomorrow, Gerry.” (Watch it all here.)
When Kershaw faced Parra to start the sixth inning yesterday—having already surrendered a double to him in the third—he sent an 0-1 fastball spinning inside, and clipped Parra’s right elbow. Wrote Steve Dilbeck in the Los Angeles Times, “[It] hardly appeared like Kershaw was intentionally trying to hit him.”
Still, it was enough for Welke, who ejected the pitcher on the spot. (Watch it here.)
Never mind that the pitch only grazed Parra. Never mind that it was a 2-0 game, and that Kershaw is chasing 20 victories on the season. Never mind that 29,799 people paid good money to see one of the National League’s best pitchers square off against the presumptive NL West champions.
Never mind all that, if you’d like, but make sure to pay attention to an umpire who refuses to let baseball’s Code play out on its own terms—if that’s even what was happening. Kershaw had every right to send a message to Parra after the previous night’s display, and the only guy in the stadium who seemed oblivious to the notion was Welke. If ever there was a spot to warn the benches, this was it.
Or, as it turned out, not.
Perhaps Kershaw learned a lesson about stifling any animated displays in the dugout. Maybe he spent the rest of the evening thinking about how and when he can next come inside to a guy with whom he has history. Or maybe he just spent a few hours poking pins into his Bill Welke doll.
He shouldn’t have had to any of this. It was a display of over-umpiring at its most blatant, and Kershaw—hell, any major league player—deserves better.