Umpire tells Russell Martin he has to “earn the privilege” to throw new balls back to the pitcher

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Weirdness in Anaheim.

Last night Russell Martin and home plate umpire Laz Diaz got into it over balls and strikes early in the game, but no one lost their head and Martin was not ejected. Later, however, Martin said Diaz began to mess with him:

Martin says Diaz wouldn’t allow him to throw new baseballs back to his pitchers after fouls during New York’s 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night … Martin says Diaz told him that throwing the balls was “a privilege I had to earn.”

In explaining it, Martin used a colorful metaphor to describe Diaz:

“Even at the end of the game after I get hit in the neck. I’m like, can I throw the ball back now? He’s still like no. I’m like you’re such a (expletive). Like for real. Unbelievable. I even told him like when there’s guys on base, I like to keep my arm loose. No. I’m not letting you throw a ball back. That’s pretty strange to me … I was kind of mystified. I really didn’t get that. He was punishing me.”

I have never heard of such a thing. And while umpires sometimes throw the new balls out themselves, I have certainly never heard of an umpire either insisting on throwing them or refusing to allow a catcher to do so.

If this actually went down the way Martin says it did and Diaz was petulantly messing with Martin over their earlier dispute, the guy doesn’t deserve to be officiating major league games.

Jim Crane thought the heat over sign-stealing would blow over by spring training

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The Astros’ sign-stealing story broke in November, a steady drumbeat of coverage of it lasted through December and into January, when Rob Manfred’s report came out about it. The report was damning and, in its wake, Houston’s manager and general manger were both suspended and then fired.

After that a steady stream of media reports came out which not only made the whole affair seem even worse than Manfred’s report suggested, but which also suggested that, on some level, Major League Baseball had bungled it all and it was even worse than it had first seemed.

Rather than Manfred and the Astros putting this all behind them, the story grew. As it grew, both the Red Sox and Mets fired their managers and, in a few isolated media appearances, Astros’ players seemed ill-prepared for questions on it all. Once spring training began the Astros made even worse public appearances and, for the past week and change, each day has given us a new player or three angrily speaking out about how mad they are at the Astros and how poorly they’ve handled all of this.

Why have they handled it so poorly? As always, look to poor leadership:

Guess not.

In other news, Crane was — and I am not making this up — recently named the Houston Sports Executive of the Year. An award he has totally, totally earned, right?