Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was ejected after being called out on a bang-bang play at first base to end the bottom of the third inning this afternoon in a 4-2 loss to the Giants. After first base umpire Clint Fagan called him out, Molina took off his helmet and slammed it on the ground in frustration, causing Fagan to immediately eject Molina. Manager Mike Matheny rushed out to defend his catcher and he, too, was ejected. Fagan assumed Molina’s behavior was directed at him, but as Molina told the media after the game, that wasn’t the case. Via MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch:
The frustration, he clarified later, was not at the out call made by first-base umpire Clint Fagan. In fact, he said the call was correct. The reaction was to the play itself, as Molina, when he made contact, first thought he had an RBI hit in a game the Cardinals trailed by two.
“It was a big situation,” Molina said. “I thought I got a base hit, and they made a play. I knew I was out. I wasn’t upset that he made the call. I was upset with myself. I tried to hold my helmet.”
Fagan’s assumption speaks volumes to the mindset of umpires particularly in recent years — that everything is about them. Players can’t possibly be frustrated with themselves or with the situation; only actions directly related to umpiring are enough to get participants emotionally invested.
The antics of players across baseball help make the sport interesting. Expressive players who would otherwise not stand out can endear themselves to fans. When I was younger, Javy Lopez became one of my favorite non-Phillies for a short while because I saw him snap a bat over his knee in frustration one time. If he did that in 2013, he would have been ejected on the spot and given an equipment fine. As umpires continue to crack down on even the tamest displays of emotion, they will push players closer and closer to each other until the only thing that separates one from the other is their on-field competency. And that’s boring.
Fans like Yadier Molina not just because he’s one of the best catchers in the game, but because he very clearly cares about the game. Molina’s passion is infectious (in a good way). Allowing umpires to reign in Molina and the scores of players with a similar level of passion for the game because their egos got bruised is actively harmful to the game.
Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times has an outstanding profile of former Rays prospect Brandon Martin, who is currently in jail for allegedly murdering three men nearly two years ago.
Fenno describes Martin’s erratic personality as he became a highly-touted baseball prospect who then descends into drug use. Friends described Martin has having completely changed into an unrecognizable person. Martin had repeated conflicts with friends and family such that police reports became common and he was placed in a psychiatric facility. Sadly, the facility only held him for less than 48 hours. He would allegedly murder three people upon returning home: his father, his brother-in-law, and a home security system contractor. Martin fled from police, who eventually caught up to him and subdued him with the help of a police dog.
Fenno’s profile is really worth a read, so click here to check it out.
Martin, 23, was selected by the Rays in the first round (38th overall) of the 2011 draft. He spent three years in the Rays’ system, reaching as high as Single-A Bowling Green.
On Sunday, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes was ejected for throwing at Orioles third baseman Manny Machado‘s head. It was revenge for a slide of Machado’s which ended up injuring Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Barnes was suspended four games.
Hall of Famer and former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez said that if he were in Barnes’ shoes, he would have also thrown at Machado, although not necessarily at his head. Via ESPN’s Scott Lauber:
If I was pitching, I was going to drill Machado, as much as I love him. The only thing I would’ve done differently is probably bring the ball a little bit lower.
Martinez added that Machado “did not intend to hurt Pedroia. And I know that because I know Machado.” And he doesn’t think Barnes meant to throw at Machado’s head.
Martinez, of course, was certainly a pitcher who wasn’t afraid to pitch inside to batters and even hit a few of them when he felt he or his teammates had been wronged. This is an unfortunate part of baseball’s culture and the fact that it continues means that it will eventually result in someone being seriously hurt. It’s disappointing that Martinez isn’t willing to be a better role model now that his playing days are over. Martinez could have set an example for today’s pitchers by saying what Barnes did crossed a line. Getting a Hall of Famer’s seal of approval will only embolden players now when they feel they must defend their teammates’ honor.
The “tradition” of beaning batters to defend one’s teammates is anachronistic in today’s game, especially when Major League Baseball has made strides in so many other ways recently to protect players’ safety.