Gary Cederstrom, Joe Maddon, Umpire Relations

Maddon Vents to Garza, Gets Cederstrom’s Goat

There is a protocol to addressing umpires. Players and managers usually have a wide berth to say what they want, so long as they don’t publically show up the ump with whom they’re arguing. For hitters and catchers, this means not turning around to face him as they speak. For managers, it’s overt displays of anger during the course of a discussion.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon hewed closely to these rules yesterday, and was tossed anyway—to the delight of his players.

Maddon was angry that, for the second straight day, a Rays pitcher was called for a balk in a critical situation. Because managers are not allowed to argue balk calls, Maddon instead went to the mound and made his case to his pitcher, Matt Garza, loudly enough for the ump in question—Gary Cederstrom, who was manning second base, and who during the course of dialog circled around behind Maddon—to hear. (Watch it here.)

Maddon, surrounded by his infielders, looked just like he would if he was arguing with an umpire, arms waving, finger pointing and volume high—only facing his own pitcher.

It wasn’t enough. Cederstrom quickly tossed him.

“The umpire said, ‘Are you talking to me, or are you talking to your pitcher?’ ” said second baseman Reid Brignac in the St. Petersburg Times. “Joe said, ‘I’m talking to my pitcher.’ Then Joe started again. ‘That’s the second damn day in a row, yada, yada, yada.’ It was definitely amusing.”

One of Maddon’s goals was to vent anger over what he felt was a pattern of bad calls. (Before Wednesday’s balk call on James Shields, pointed out the Times, the pitcher had faced more than 3,600 batters in his career and been called for only one balk; Garza’s last balk was more than 1,300 batters ago.)

He also wanted to give Garza a moment to get his head back in the game. It worked; Garza worked out of the jam and ended up going eight innings.

Maddon accomplished both items while sticking to the Code. He didn’t show up the umpire so much as the umpire showed up himself.

Ultimately, he proved the point that it’s not just how you say something that can get you tossed—it’s what you say, as well.

– Jason

Jason Kendall, Mike Estabrook, Umpire Relations

A Bad Week for Umpires Gets Even Worse

Jim Joyce was responsible for a horrific call, but one call does not a bad umpire make.

Mike Estabrook shouldn’t get off that easy.

Estabrook, the umpire behind the plate for the Royals-Angels game yesterday, didn’t react well when Kansas City catcher Jason Kendall questioned his strike zone.

For catchers, the unwritten rule when it comes to dealing with umpires is to avoid showing them up, to which Kendall adhered. After Estabrook called a ball on a good-looking Zack Greinke pitch, the catcher questioned the decision without turning around or indicating in any way that he was even addressing the umpire.

Sometimes when umpires feel the need to go eye-to-eye with a catcher, they’ll walk to the pitcher’s side of the plate and bend over to dust it off, in the process saying whatever it is they feel need be said.

Estabrook, however, moved into the left-handed batter’s box, and, hands on knees, bent down to get into the squatting Kendall’s face, as if he was chewing out a four-year-old. (Watch it here.)

Estabrook is a call-up ump from Triple-A. Kendall, without hyperbole, probably knows more about playing catcher than any of his big-league contemporaries.

It was a disgraceful display.

Royals manager Ned Yost came out to question just what the hell it was Estabrook thought he was doing, and promptly got tossed. (“I’ll never let an umpire show up one of my players, and that’s exactly what he was doing,” he said after the game.)

While it’s valid to question whether Kendall said something to elicit that sort of response, there are several factors to consider:

  • Kendall knows exactly what and what not to say to an umpire when questioning a call.
  • If Kendall did say something to piss of Estabrook that badly, he should have been ejected on the spot, rather than shown up.
  • Kendall followed the Code so closely when addressing Estabrook that even as the umpire continued to talk to him after tossing Yost, Kendall would not turn around to face him.

“He missed a pitch, and I was talking to him about it, and he came out in front, which I’ve never really seen,” Kendall said after the game. “I told him he’d better get out of my face. It was unprofessional what he did.”

Unprofessional is one way to put it. Disrespectful is another. One can only hope that Estabrook picks up the finer points of the Code before his next stint in the major leagues.

– Jason

Umpire Relations

How to Talk to Umpires

In the wake of two umpire-related events last week—Bob Davidson’s blowout with Joe Maddon, and Joe West ejecting Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buehrle over two disputed balk calls—former big leaguer Eduardo Perez (the son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, who has managed in Puerto Rico and is an analyst for ESPN) offered up a brief tutorial on umpire relations, a topic with its own chapter in the unwritten rulebook.

Perez’s key points:

  • “Sometimes (as a manager) you know that the umpire made the right call, yet your player doesn’t seem to think so. In situations like that, you almost always still back your guy up because you don’t want to lose his trust.”
  • “Umpires don’t like it when players use their hands as a form of communication. They would rather have you yell at them than flail your arms because everything is on TV and it makes them look disrespected, like you’re showing them up.”
  • “If I disagreed with a strike call, I was taught to look down at the plate and be specific about what I saw: ‘Hey, I had that pitch 6 inches outside.’ Making eye contact and asking the umpire where the pitch was is the wrong move because you’re making more of a scene and questioning his judgment instead of confidently stating your own opinion.”

– Jason

Babe Ruth, George Frazier, Jose Offerman, Ron Hassey, Umpire Relations

Offerman Neither the First Guy to Want to Hit an Ump, Nor the First Guy to Actually Do It

So Jose Offerman was banned for life from the Dominican Winter Baseball League after slugging an umpire last week while serving as the manager of the Licey Tigers. Our guess: It was merely an effort to maintain his reputation as an all-hit, no-field player.

Offerman, of course, reminds us that an entire section of baseball’s Code is devoted to umpire relations. The unwritten rules, of course, while doing nothing to discourage on-field disagreements with the men in blue, generally solicit more tact than was shown by the former Dodger.

Which doesn’t mean that guys don’t occasionally attempt to inflict a little damage of their own.

Former pitcher George Frazier told us about the time in 1984, when his batterymate, Indians catcher Ron Hassey, was rung up on a dubious called strike by umpire Joe Brinkman. Hassey’s response: when he came out to catch the bottom of the frame, he gave Frazier a signal to throw a fastball away, but set up on the inside part of the plate.

“I said, all right, maybe the hitter is peeking or something,” said Frazier, describing a well-known method for deterring hitters whose eyes might wander backward (a tactic that has its own section of the Code). “I throw a fastball away, Joe’s set up right there, and it hit him square in the mask. Oh my God—Hassey got tossed and Joe’s wanting to kill me. I said, ‘Hey, I just threw what I thought he called. Why are you mad at me? Joe’s still not happy about that deal.”

Something similar happened in 1999, when Devil Rays catcher Mike DeFelice failed to put a glove on a Wilson Alvarez fastball that more or less split the plate. The pitch hit plate ump John Shulock’s mask so hard it dented the bars. Once Shulock regained his senses, he remembered that Alvarez had questioned several of his calls throughout the game, and stormed the mound, “yelling and gesturing angrily,” according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Alvarez, of course, denied any intent, and Shulock was ultimately suspended three games for his “display of temper.”

Leave it to no less an authority than Babe Ruth, though, to affirm that occasional scare tactics against umpires can be effective—and that Offerman was hardly alone in his love of the right cross.

It’s well known that as a pitcher for the Red Sox, Ruth took part in a joint no-hitter. Ruth questioned umpire Brick Owens after walking the game’s first hitter, and was subsequently tossed. Reliever Ernie Shore then came in and retired 27 men in a row (including the runner he inherited, who was thrown out on the basepaths).

What’s less known is what Ruth actually did to get ejected.

“I still insist that three of the four (balls) should have been strikes,” wrote Ruth in the autobiographical The Babe Ruth Story. “I growled at some of the early balls, but when (Owens) called the fourth one on me I just went crazy. I rushed up to the plate and I said, ‘If you’d go to bed at night, you so-and-so, you could keep your eyes open long enough in the daytime to see when a ball goes over the plate.’ ”

At which point the ump threatened to toss Ruth.

The pitcher’s response: “Throw me out of this game and I’ll punch you right on the jaw.” Not one to be intimidated, Owens immediately gave him the thumb.

“I hauled off and hit him, but good,” wrote Ruth.

Good thing Ruth never got the managerial job he so desperately wanted, or he might have ended up like Jose Offerman. Which, as we know by now, is not necessarily a good thing.

– Jason