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].

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 4, Mariners 3: A pair of first inning two-run homers — from Aaron Judge and Miguel Andujar — were all the Yankees needed, even with a less-sharp-than-usual Luis Severino.

In other news, reporters asked Aaron Boone after the game yesterday if the Yankees are too reliant on homers. Boone was, quite understandably, incredulous that someone was asking him that.

Can someone please tell me why people who cover the Yankees, nearly every single year, go through a “are the Yankees too reliant on home runs?” phase? Seriously, go search “Yankees” and some variation of “home run-reliant” or “home run-dependent” or whatever. It’s an evergreen. Hell, they did it TEN DAYS AGO. As if hitting homers is bad. I mean, I know I’m not a seasoned beat reporter and don’t know nothin, but I’m pretty sure homers are awesome and are literally the best thing you can do when you’re batting.

John: “I hit a double.”
Charlie: “I hit a homer.”

CHARLIE WINS

My god, if you can’t think of an angle, at least stop going back to the tired and dumb ones you take every year. Or, at the very least, if you’re going to continue to worry about the Yankees being too reliant on homers, acknowledge that the Yankees HIT A METRIC BUTT-TON of homers, they’re hit by guys who are expected to hit a lot of homers so it’s not a fluke and it’s all good.

But, hey, congratulations on getting a quote out of Boone. Your copy is complete and turned in and you can go home now.

Red Sox 9, Twins 2: Rick Porcello tossed one-hit shutout ball for seven innings. No one asked him if he’s too “getting guys out”-reliant. Missed opportunity, really. Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi went deep and the Sox racked up 16 hits in all.

Rockies 6, Mets 4: Nolan Arenado hit a three-run jack early — his third homer in as many days — and knocked in five runs in all. Dude drove in nine runs against the Mets over the past three games, in fact, so I imagine New York is happy to be leaving town. Kyle Freeland went six innings, allowing two, and got out of jams with double plays on three occasions.

Nationals 4, Orioles 2: Max Scherzer allowed two over seven and struck out nine but didn’t get the win because his mates decided not to take a lead until the eighth inning. It happens. That lead came via a two-run double from Juan Soto, who is now batting .326 with 16 RBI in 28 games, despite the fact that I literally — yes, literally — have t-shirts in my regular rotation that are older than he is. Anthony Rendon homered.

Diamondbacks 9, Pirates 3: Arizona jumped out with eight runs before the third inning was even over, giving license to my friends in Pittsburgh for the SABR convention this weekend to leave early and go raise hell. And believe me, you do NOT want to get in the way of a bunch of baseball historians when they’ve had a few drinks and have time on their hands. You’ll just be walking down the street and then all of a sudden you’re cornered by some guys in dad jeans lecturing you about Hank Greenberg’s season with the 1932 Beaumont Explorers of the Texas League and asking you if there’s a good place to find some beer nearby, but “nothing too hoppy because, man, my system just can’t take that since I hit 50.”

Reds 6, Cubs 2: Cincinnati enjoyed a six-run sixth inning, thanks to a bases-loaded walk drawn by Eugenio Suarez, a grand slam by Jesse Winker and an RBI single from Billy Hamilton. In other news, yesterday on Twitter there was a lot of discussion about how MLB could do a better job of marketing players. My friend Jeff, who works in P.R. and used to work for Major League Baseball, said a lot of very smart things about that, explaining why it’s not so simple as to say “MLB should market its stars better.” One of the minor points in that is that ballplayers, by virtue of the culture of the game, are conditioned to not draw attention to themselves and to downplay their stardom lest someone think they’re a hot dog or a glory hound or whatever. I’m not going to suggest that Jesse Winker is a budding superstar which MLB should be marketing hard, but his quote after the game illustrates the point:

“Guys put together great at-bats in front of me. Obviously, you can’t hit a grand slam unless guys get on base.”

There’s a certain admirable humility to that. It’s also nothing that’s gonna sell t-shirts, posters or make 12-year-olds say “WOW, WINKER IS THE MAN!”

Brewers 11, Cardinals 3: Brent Suter allowed two over seven and the Cardinals threw and bobbled the ball all over the place, allowing the Brewers to score six unearned runs. Eric Thames drove in three and Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar knocked in a couple a piece.

Angels 8, Blue Jays 5: Luis Valbuena homered twice and Kole Calhoun connected for the second consecutive game. The Jays have lost nine of ten on the road. Also, this happened:

That was the first tweet I saw when I woke up this morning and I’m still chuckling. It’s John Lamb, by the way. I hope he has a good sense of humor about this.

Giants 3, Padres 0: Madison Bumgarner is back. I mean, he’s been back, but now he’s BACK. The Giants’ ace tossed eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits and struck out eight. He also knocked in the Giants’ first and, as it happens, only necessary run, with a sac fly. Giants fans can finally relax, knowing that, in some ways at least, the old order has been restored.

Athletics vs. White Sox — POSTPONED:

Hmmm
Sunshine, blue skies, please go away.
My girl has found another and gone away.
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom.
So day after day, I stayed locked up in my room.
I know to you it might sound strange.
But I wish it would rain. (How I wish that it would rain)
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah