And That Happened: Thursday's Scores and Highlights

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Pirates foam fingers.jpgBrewers 20, Pirates 0: I think the most remarkable thing about this game is that the Brewers were set down 1-2-3 in the first inning.

Phillies 8, Braves 3: This series began with the Phillies bullpen breaking down, but that ended up being a fluke. The real story of the series was that the Phillies got great starting pitching in all three games, and between that, their patience at the plate and their excellent defense they clearly showed that they are the better team right now. And Derek Lowe showed something too: he has nothing left.

Rockies 2, Nationals 0: When Ubaldo Jiminez gave up the double to Willie Harris in the first inning, Johnny Vander Meer — as has become his tradition — opened up the bottle of champagne he’s been saving, celebrating and savoring the fact that he remains the only man to pitch back-to-back no hitters. Wait, what? Johnny Vander Meer died in 1997? Oh, never mind.

Athletics 4, Yankees 2: The Yankees turned a triple play and pissed off Dallas Braden something fierce, but they lost the game. My thought on the Braden thing: I’ve never heard of the unwritten rule about not walking on the mound, but I want to think less of A-Rod for it all the same if that makes any sense. Mostly I just want someone to recut the video of Braden jawing at Rodriguez with the audio from the “get off my f—— obstacle” scene from “Full Metal Jacket” because that would be cool.

Reds 8, Dodgers 5: Manny left in the sixth after straining his right calf.  When the season started I thought oblique injuries would be all the rage, but it turns out that calf injuries are really where it’s at. Just goes to show that you can’t predict fashion.

Mets 5, Cubs 2: Johan Santana blanked the Cubs for six innings and ended up giving up only one run, Ike Davis had three hits and K-Rod came into a jam in the 8th and put out the fire, earning his first save of the year. Those things together make this a very satisfying win for Mets fans.

Indians 8, Twins 1: A nice win for the Indians, but the big story coming out of Cleveland yesterday is that the Indians have invited me to the Tribe Social Deck for the game against the Tigers on May 7th. This gesture of taste and goodwill no doubt led to their fine performance.

Rangers 3, Red Sox 0: C.J. Wilson gets his first career win as a starter. He was matched by Clay Buchholz for most of the game, but things unraveled in the 7th as, after one run was already in, a stolen base put Nelson Cruz into position to score on a David Murphy double and a throwing error by Buchholz allowed Murphy to score.

Rays 10, White Sox 2: The rays outscored the White Sox 22-2 over the past two games to take the series. Tampa Bay completed a 9-1 road trip. Given the home field advantage they’ve come to expect in the Trop, this bodes well. Seven walks, seven hits and seven earned runs for Jake Peavy who, even if he can’t be happy about his game, has to at least appreciate the symmetry of his performance on an aesthetic level.

Tigers 5, Angels 4: Great moments in efficiency: Justin Verlander threw 125 pitches in five innings. He got the win, however, after he was bailed out by a Tigers’ bullpen which has thrown 15.2 consecutive scoreless innings. And here I thought that would be the team’s weakness this year.  In other news, Torri Hunter was presented with his Gold Glove before the game. He then proceeded to bat from the DH slot. There’s got to be some kind of lesson in there somewhere, but I just can’t tease it out.

Marlins 5, Astros 1: Jorge Cantu extends his hitting streak to 20 games.  Know what? I think baseball history needs a little shaking up and something as random as Jorge Cantu hitting in 57 straight games would totally do the trick. Viva chaos and all of that.

Something needs to change to avoid future incidents like Machado-vs.-Welke

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced that Padres third baseman Manny Machado was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount for “aggressively arguing” and making contact with home plate umpire Bill Welke after a controversial strike three call in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the Rockies in Colorado. The clip of the incident is below, showing that Welke’s call was poor. Machado’s behavior was also poor, as he indeed made contact — inadvertently or not — with Welke and repeatedly swore at him. Machado also threw his bat, though it was not in anyone’s direction and no one was put in harm’s way.

Machado chose to appeal his suspension, as is his right. While that matter is in the process of being resolved, the Major League Umpires Association put out a lengthy statement on Facebook and a shorter but hashtag-laden post on Twitter. The statements were problematic for a number of reasons, chiefest being that the union is publicly commenting on an ongoing matter. MLB can keep Machado’s suspension at one game, which seems likely, or it can reduce his suspension to zero games. The league can also choose to reduce or remove the fine as well. Once the matter is resolved, the MLBUA should feel free to comment publicly on the matter.

MLBUA’s statement was also poorly proofread, hyperbolic, and creates a very legitimate argument for bias against Machado and/or the Padres going forward. The MLBUA described Machado as “violently” throwing his bat “with no regard to anyone’s safety.” It continued, “It is NOT okay to throw a temper tantrum and physically touch someone of authority, just because you don’t agree.”

MLBUA then moralized, asking, “What does this teach the MLB’s immense and ongoing influential youth movement trying to attract young fans to the game? Major League Baseball has to always lead by example in all cases of violent behavior, on and off the field.” It closed out, saying that the union was “extraordinarily disappointed” in MLB’s “inaction.”

Among the hashtags MLBUA used on Twitter were “#TemperTantrum,” “#RepeatOffender,” and “#Nonsense.”

Major League Baseball then released a statement on Tuesday night, saying, “…we do not believe it is appropriate for the union representing Major League Umpires to comment on the discipline of players represented by the Players Association.” The league added, “We also believe it is inappropriate to compare this incident to the extraordinarily serious issue of workplace violence.”

Whoever put out the message on behalf of the MLBUA should have asked themselves, “What is my purpose here and for whom am I posting this?” The entire purpose of a trade union is to create a cohesive unit, establishing bargaining power on behalf of labor versus capital. So, MLBUA is not writing this for fans, for players, or for MLB executives; it is publicly commenting for umpires. An ancillary benefit might be to engender public support for umpires vis-a-vis Welke.

It must then ask itself if the statement creates solidarity among umpires. And I think that’s a solid no. Machado is not the first player and will not be the last to make contact with an umpire and to throw a “temper tantrum” of that magnitude. So why single Machado out and die on this hill today? I would be shocked if more than a handful of umpires outside of Welke and his closest confidantes appreciated the MLBUA reacting the way it did. It doesn’t help them achieve any union-specific goals and might actually hurt them. Repeatedly referring to Machado’s actions as a “temper tantrum” and “nonsense,” and calling him a “repeat offender” is unprofessional. It’s something an Internet commenter would write in the heat of the moment, not the representative of a trade union in one of the most profitable industries in the country. Furthermore, in singling out Machado, Machado himself as well as his teammates have a legitimate reason to believe Welke and his crew might be biased against them not just for the remainder of the season but for the foreseeable future.

On a more pedantic note, the MLBUA wrote that it is not okay for players to act the way Machado did against “someone of authority.” It’s not the power that should shield umpires from workplace violence; it’s their humanity. Machado should no more or less scream and yell at an umpire than he should anyone else in any walk of life. However you rank umpires, coaches, front office executives, teammates, opponents, fans, etc. — they should all be treated equally.

All of this being said, there was one part of MLBUA’s statement that rang true. As mentioned, Welke did suffer violence in the workplace. I disagree with MLB that the comparison was inappropriate. There is nuance to what constitutes “workplace violence.” Is it a mass shooting? Of course not. But in no other employment setting would it be appropriate for one person to scream, curse, and throw items across the room during a disagreement. The union correctly wrote, “Physical contact simply cannot be tolerated.” The crux of all of this is that Major League Baseball doesn’t discourage altercations between umpires and players/coaches. Things have gotten better since the implementation of instant replay, but some instances — especially ball/strike judgment — can turn into very heated altercations.

MLB needs a flat rule instructing players and coaches not to argue with umpires. The team of the offending person(s) would incur an in-game penalty as well as a potential fine and suspension. In exchange for this loss of power on the part of players and coaches, the umpires should be subject to actual oversight. As it stands, umpires are almost never punished in any way for any kind of behavior towards players and coaches, nor are they often punished for poor results in terms of correct calls made. The umpires already have the advantage with their authority; their lack of oversight puts that advantage on steroids, which is why there’s often so much frustration. Umpires instigate confrontations a non-negligible amount of the time. If they felt like they would actually be held accountable for it, they might be much more reluctant to act, for example, the way Ron Kulpa did towards the Astros in early April.

MLBUA helped gain that power imbalance for its members, so it isn’t likely to give it up very easily. I don’t see my utopian dream coming to fruition anytime soon. But that’s the crux of every umpire-involved confrontation: authority. Umpires and players/coaches need to be on a level playing field in that regard, and the rules need to be crystal clear on what kind of behavior is allowed from both sides. Until that happens, we’ll be seeing a Machado-vs.-Welke incident once or twice every year ad infinitum.