Angel Campos, Matt Kemp, Umpire Relations

Know Your Umpires: Kemp Tossed Early, Dodgers Lose

Proper response to umpires is an essential component of survival as a baseball player. Some players go to lengths to learn names and details from umpires’ lives, then chat them up, as friends do, because it might buy some goodwill down the road.

Others have a more difficult time determining appropriate behavior.

That definition, of course, differs from ump to ump, and may even differ from day to day for the same guy, depending on his mood. Thursday in Pittsburgh, it appeared that plate umpire Angel Campos was a bit grumpy.

Things began in the second inning, with Matt Kemp—still upset over calls during his first-inning strikeout—chirping from the dugout toward the plate. As Andre Ethier stood in the batter’s box, Campos can be heard on the telecast saying toward the Dodgers dugout, “I don’t want to hear you again, I’m telling you that right now.” Somebody on the bench replies, “Just watch the game.”

“That’s all I’m telling you,” replies Campos.

“Just watch the game,” echoes the bench.

Talk from the dugout continued, though it can not be understood on the game audio, and a moment later Campos responded firmly, ejecting Kemp. (Watch it all here.)

According to Kemp, the phrase he used to break the Campos’ back: “Let’s go, Dre.” Manager Don Mattingly’s swift and outraged reaction to the ejection—he was tossed as well in short order—supports the statement.

“Matt got thrown out today for cheering for Andre,” Mattingly said after the game, as reported by MLB.com. “He was barking about the pitch to Dre, the second strike, but then Angel said, ‘That’s enough. I don’t want to hear another word.’ So the next thing that came out of [Matt’s mouth]—I heard it, clear as a bell—he said—because Matt knows where to stop—and Matt said, ‘Let’s go, Dre!’ And [Campos] looked over, and he threw him out of the game. It’s unacceptable.”

We’re left with the fact that an umpire has little reason to eject anyone over a statement of teammate support that can in no way be interpreted as an attack. We’re left with the fact that ejecting a team’s best player in the second inning of a game—especially a team in the heat of a pennant race—is an action that should only be utilized as a final resort, not a first one. We’re left with an outraged roster that, short its No. 3 hitter, ultimately fell to the Pirates, 10-6.

Something trumps all of that, however—a rule about which both Kemp and Mattingly should have been glaringly aware: Know Your Umps.

Campos clearly told them to zip it, and zip it they did not. Was it justified? Probably not. But to push things in such a manner when a directive has already been issued to refrain from said pushing isn’t the world’s greatest strategy. Kemp may feel like he backed down from a potential confrontation, but he clearly didn’t back down enough.

Umps don’t have to be just or reasonable or even correct. They’re hopefully held accountable for their actions at some point during or after the season, but in the moment, the wrongest-of-the-wrong umpires still has the power to toss a player for the smallest-of-the-small reasons. Kemp should never have given him that reason.

Pitcher Joe Blanton’s ejection in the fifth was another matter entirely. As the right-hander was heading for the dugout after being pulled from the game, he stared daggers at Campos until the umpire said something, then lit off toward him to engage in heated conversation. He knew what he was doing and he knew where it would end, and all went precisely according to plan. (Watch it here.)

Kemp: Not so much. His spot in the order came up three more times with runners on base—once with the bases loaded—and even though the Dodgers got a bunt single and a hit-by-pitch from his replacements to score runs in two of those situations, there’s little question that Kemp’s presence would have offered them significantly more.

The chance to win a game trumps nearly every one of baseball’s unwritten rules. When it comes to the one about knowing how to deal with umpires, however, the two go hand in hand. The Dodgers know this as well as anybody, but on Wednesday they ignored it—and it cost them.

Update (8/18): Mattingly, not Kemp, was suspended for his actions.

Awards voting

Matt Kemp Still a Winner in Mattingly’s Book

Your 1985 AL MVP.

Don Mattingly talked Codes in Los Angelesthis week, suggesting to ESPN that Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp did not win the NL MVP Award at least in part due to an unwritten rule mandating that such players come from winning teams.

It’s certainly not a written rule. As Anna McDonald reported at the Hardball Times, “The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”

The Code to which Mattingly referred has been truly flaunted only once, in 1987, when Andre Dawson took the honor, despite playing for the last-place Cubs. (In 1997, Larry Walker’s Rockies were a third-place team, and in 1989 the Brewers and Robin Yount finished in fourth. Neither, however, was a losing club, although Milwaukee finished at an even.500.)

In the wake of Ryan Braun’s PED investigation, Mattingly said he thinks Kemp should’ve won the award in the first place.

“You guys (the media) always ask me about unwritten rules, about catchers and stuff like that,” he said. “Then we have the unwritten rules about voting, because (Kemp) wasn’t on a winning team. You guys gotta get your unwritten rules together.”

The argument here is obvious: How valuable can a player on a last-place team actually be? This conversation occurs every winter—not only as it pertains to the validity of star players on losing squads, but pitchers’ eligibility for the MVP as well. It’s why some advocate for a “Most Outstanding Player Award,” and why some say that none of it matters—it’s all just a popularity contest, anyway. How else could Ted Williams bat .406, lead the league in home runs … and finish second to Joe DiMaggio? Or winning the triple crown twice—and losing the MVP both times, first to Joe Gordon, then again to DiMaggio.

For what it’s worth, all three of those Williams-led Red Sox teams finished with winning records, in either second or third place in an eight-team league.

Must have been the Code that handed those awards to members of the pennant-winning Yankees. Don Mattingly would not have approved.

– Jason