I have long believed that an umpire is best seen and not heard, a line often used to describe children. Like children, some umpires tend to think they are the center of attention and their offenses are of the utmost importance. John Hirschbeck was among them this afternoon, when he went looking for a confrontation and found it in Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.
Harper check-swung on a 2-2 slider from Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez, which just barely escaped the edge of the strike zone. Home plate umpire Bob Davidson appealed to third base umpire Hirschbeck, who ruled that Harper had swung at the offering. Harper, exasperated, expressed his disagreement with the call some 100 feet away. Hirschbeck immediately threw up his hands and yelled at Harper, like a drunk guy looking for trouble in a bar. He walked towards home plate, continuing to gesticulate and shout as Harper quietly talked to Davidson from the batter’s box. Third base coach Trent Jewett intercepted Hirschbeck as he stomped towards Harper, but it was no matter as Hirschbeck ejected Harper from the game shortly thereafter.
This reminds me of an altercation a few years ago between Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and third base umpire Scott Barry. The circumstances were similar, though much later in the game. Barry, like Hirschbeck, was looking for a fight and got one. He ejected Howard in the bottom of the 14th inning, which forced the Phillies to use Roy Oswalt in left field.
I bring that up only as a secondary example to what happened this afternoon. An umpire should never be looking for a fight; rather, an umpire should always be striving to prevent one when possible. Like a customer service employee being yelled at by an unhappy customer, an umpire should stand statuesque, speaking calmly (or not at all). Hirschbeck’s behavior this afternoon is Exhibit A when baseball fans plead for less reliance on “the human element”.
Watch the conflict: