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].

Marlins, Mariners are “fairly close” on a trade for David Phelps

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Jon Morosi reports that the Mariners and the Marlins are “fairly close” on a trade that would send reliever David Phelps to Seattle. Earlier Ken Rosenthal and others reported that the sides were talking, but that a deal was not imminent.

Phelps, 30, had a fantastic 2016 season, posting a 2.28 ERA in 64 games while striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings. He’s not been as strong this year, but he’s still been a solid setup man, posting a 3.45 ERA in 44 games while striking out 51 batters and walking 21 in 47 innings. He throws in the mid-90s and induces grounders. Basically everything you want in a reliever, right?

The Mariners could probably use rotation help more than bullpen help, but solid innings are solid innings at one point and improving your pen takes some of the pressure off of your rotation.

 

Corey Seager has more homers than any other shortstop in Los Angeles Dodgers history

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Corey Sager homered in the Dodgers’ win over the White Sox last night. It was his 45th career homer, 44 of which have come while playing shortstop. While that’s great given that the guy has only played in 270 games, it’s not a lot of homers in an absolute sense. Thousands of players have more homers than that, obviously. Baseball has been around for a long time!

But it’s enough to set a record. A Los Angeles Dodgers record, specifically, for the most homers from a shortstop. It puts Seager past Rafael Furcal, who hit 43 while wearing Dodger blue. The record for the franchise, including Brooklyn, is Pee Wee Reese, who hit 122.

It seems astounding that no other Dodgers shortstop has hit more than 44 homers in the nearly 60 years since the club has been in Los Angeles, but it’s true. If you had asked me before I saw the factoid mentioned on Twitter I would’ve bet my life that Bill Russell would’ve had more. Not because he had any power — he was, in fact, one of the more punchless players of his era — but because he simply played in L.A. so long, logging 1,746 games at short for Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda. Nope. He only hit 46 in his 18-year career, with a handful of those coming as an outfielder. His season high is seven. Seager has hit seven homers in May of his rookie season.

Oh well, you learn something new every day.