A reporter’s suggestion of umpire bias was way out of line

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We finally have a situation in which I feel that an umpire and Joe Torre are worthy of being defended after an on-field screwup and in which I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

First base umpire Ron Kulpa screwed up on Saturday night. There’s no mistaking that. Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli tagged baserunner Matt Holliday out at first base during the Cardinals’ four-run fourth inning in Game 3. He clearly tagged him. Kulpa called him safe. Blown call, no question.  But the far more egregious act came after the game when a pool reporter from the Associated Press asked Ron Kulpa — who had made himself available to discuss the missed call — about the fact that he was from St. Louis.

I suppose it’s possible that the reporter simply and abruptly changed the subject from the blown call to a feel-good story about Kulpa’s roots, but it’s more likely that he was insinuating that the umpire was harboring bias based on some local rooting interest.  That’s certainly what Joe Torre felt as he took the unusual step of criticizing that question and defending Kulpa’s integrity before last night’s game.

And good for Torre. We can — and often do — criticize bad calls and bad umpires around here. We want instant replay. We think that some umpires have shown that they are incompetent or something close to it. But it’s an entirely different thing to suggest that one is biased in favor of a certain team based on … nothing.  Even Joe West is an equal opportunity awful umpire. Suggesting or even entertaining the notion that one favors a given team is simply inappropriate behavior for a credentialed reporter.

I don’t say this very often, but last night Joe Buck and Tim McCarver hit the nail on the head when they noted how stupid and pervasive charges of bias are. Buck noted that, at various times, he’s been accused of favoring just about every team. I can certainly relate to that. In just the past few weeks I’ve been accused of tipping the editorial scales in favor of the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Rangers, the Tigers and, of course, my personal rooting interest, the Braves. Anyone who writes or reports about the game gets that. Never does it make any sense. More importantly, never do such accusations come from a person who themselves isn’t a partisan of the team being criticized or a person who hates the team being praised.

The bias card is so, so common these days that I presume that this AP reporter felt like he was simply asking a question that he felt readers were demanding be asked. But the fact is that true bias — especially bias by someone significant in a way that matters — is pretty damn rare. There’s a rational bias of broadcasters who prefer to show east coast games and feature east coast topics because of ratings and page views. There are the local provincials who see and report on the entire world through locally-tinted goggles. There are disclosed biases — like my Braves fandom — that exist in a writer’s heart but which don’t cause the writer to ignore reality.

But an umpire being unable to shake off what could have possibly been a youthful rooting interest so that it impacts his job? Please. Even the suggestion of that absent a shred of evidence requires one to leave sanity and reality behind and reveals that the reporter himself was biased by the culture of bias accusations that has sprung up on the Internet over the years. And no matter what motivated it, the question itself was low rent and totally unprofessional.

But what do you expect? The guy who asked it was probably from [insert the city you don’t like here].

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 5, Brewers 3: An absolute dagger of a loss for the Brewers. Chicago took a 2-0 lead early and Milwaukee fought back to take a 3-2 lead in the eighth. In the ninth Ian Happ reached on a grounder on which he should have been out — no error was called, Jeremy Jeffress just couldn’t get to the bag in time — and then Javier Baez tied things up singling Happ in with two outs. In the 10th, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer on a high fastball that probably didn’t do everything Oliver Drake wanted it to do. Wade Davis got the final five outs of the game, in the ninth and tenth, striking out four Brewers. Chicago is now four and a half games ahead of the Brewers in the Central. Milwaukee will have to win the final three games of this series to have any shot at the division. They do remain only one back in the Wild Card, however, because Colorado keeps losing.

Dodgers 5, Phillies 4: Philly took a 4-2 lead thanks to rookie sensations Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins, but old men Curtis Granderson and Andre Ethier — still alive! who knew?! — homered in the six than seventh innings, respectively, to tie it up. The Dodgers’ own rookie sensation Cody Bellinger drove in the eventual winning run with a groundout in the seventh. With that win the Dodgers clinch at least a tie for the NL West title. They can pop champagne corks with either a win tonight or a Dbacks loss. Bad news though: Justin Turner got a bruised thumb when he was hit by a pitch from Mark Leiter Jr. in the first. X-rays were negative and he’s day-to-day, but that kind of thing can linger.

Indians 4, Angels 1: Francisco Lindor hit a three-run homer in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie and the Indians win yet again. That’s 27 of 28 now. They’re only a game behind the Dodgers for the best record in baseball which, as we’ve noted recently, matters now that home field in the World Series is determined by non-stupid means.

Orioles 3, Rays 1: Gabriel Ynoa — who, apropos of nothing, has one of the more satisfying last names to both read and pronounce in all of baseball — tossed eight innings of five-hit, one-run ball. Manny Machado hit a two-run homer and Trey Mancini knocked in a run, both coming in the first innings, for all of Baltimore’s scoring. Tampa Bay threatened in the ninth. It wasn’t anywhere near as good a threat as the one Kim Jong Un issued to Trump yesterday — really, all politics aside, that thing reads fantastically — so the O’s were able to extinguish the fire.

Royals 1, Blue Jays 0: Jason Vargas and four relievers allowed two hits and no runs to beat J.A. Happ and three relievers who allowed eight hits and one run. Melky Cabrera‘s third inning RBI single was the game’s only scoring. Can you imagine what any pitcher from before, say, 1980, must think about a 1-0 game featuring a two-hit shutout that required nine pitchers?

Twins 12, Tigers 1: The Twins had been on a mini-skid before last night, but the Tigers pitching staff will always cure what ails ya. Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each and four different Twins batters knocked in two runs. The Twins now have a two and a half game lead for the second Wild Card with ten days left in the season.

Cardinals 8, Reds 5: Scott Schebler hit two homers for the Reds but it was not enough to overcome the Cards. Dexter Fowler had three hits and drove in two. He was 7-for-13 with two home runs and six RBI in the three-game series, swept by St. Louis. The Cards, who were swept by the Cubs last weekend, are still alive for the Wild Card, though, sitting a game and a half back of Colorado and a half game back of Milwaukee.

Braves 3, Nationals 2: R.A. Dickey allowed two runs over eight innings to pick up his 10th win on the year. After the game he said, “I’d be lying to say I didn’t have some emotions about it. This could be my last start ever at a home venue.” So there’s a decent chance he retires after the season. Part of me hopes he doesn’t — knuckleballers can and should pitch forever and he does have a team option the Braves are likely to pick up for 2018 — but he’s got kids and stuff and it’d be totally understandable if he decided he was done.

White Sox 3, Astros 1: White Sox starter Carson Fulmer lasted one third of an inning before leaving with a blister so seven relievers covered the rest of the game, allowing only one run to the best offense in baseball. Dallas Keuchel walked in one run and allowed another to score on a double play to earn the loss. Tim Anderson hit an insurance home run in the eighth.

Rangers 4, Mariners 2: Cole Hamels allowed only one run over eight innings pitched and was backed by Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo homers and a Carlos Gomez two-run double. The Mariners have been part of the Wild Card conversation for much of the season but now they’re closer to last place in the AL West (4.5 games) than they are to the second Wild Card (5 games).

Padres 3, Rockies 0: Clayton Richard, fresh off of his two-year contract extension, tamed the Rockies, shutting them out for seven and a third, scattering seven hits. Christian Villanueva homered and drove in two. The Rockies have dropped four straight and have the Brewers and Cards breathing down their necks for the second Wild Card.

Padres, Mariners join list of teams to extend netting

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The Reds announced earlier that they plan to extend the protective netting at Great American Ball Park in time for Opening Day next season. You can add the Padres and Mariners to what will surely be a growing list.

A young fan was struck in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, which gave new life to the netting debate. Some fans and media types think Major League Baseball is not doing enough to protect fans. While Major League Baseball has issued guidelines for protective netting, it is ultimately up to the teams to decide just how much netting to use.