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

59 Comments

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].

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
3 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.