Last night, Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was called out on strikes in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was a borderline call but a pitch that is quite often called a strike and wasn’t the kind of hill you’d prefer your star shortstop to die on, but he beefed about it anyway. He and home plate umpire John Hirschbeck argued a bit about the call, Tulowitzki sat down and that was that.
Except that wasn’t that. When Tulowitzki went out to shortstop at the top of the eighth, he appeared to be talking to his teammates about it. Hirschbeck, all the way over by home plate, took notice. Tulowitzki later said that he told Hirschbeck that the pitch wasn’t a strike. I imagine he said something stronger than that. But whatever the case, after a very brief exchange, Hirschbeck ejected Tulowtizki. Watch:
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The Blue Jays have, to put it lightly, taken considerable issue with the strike zone this series. They don’t really have a great case on that score according to PITCHf/x, but ballplayers complain about strike zones sometimes. Even if you’re not supposed to argue balls and strikes with umps. It’s baseball and it happens.
What doesn’t happen or, at the very least shouldn’t happen, is an umpire running a key player in a situation like that. Yes, if a player is up in his face or delaying the game or otherwise behaving obnoxiously he may warrant an ejection, but this was not that case. This was an umpire fully able, if he so chose, to ignore a whining player. Instead he chose to have rabbit ears and take personal insult at what the player said, allowing his ego to control the situation.
We can possibly ignore this stuff in July, but this was a playoff game. The AL-freakin’-CS, and Tulowitzki is one of the most important players in it. It ultimately didn’t matter much to the outcome, but baseball should not tolerate a situation in which an overly-sensitive umpire is allowed to have a key impact on a playoff game by virtue of running a player with whom he becomes displeased. The fuse in a playoff game should be way, way, way longer than it normally is. And, heck, even in a regular season game the fuse should not be lit by a player standing 80 feet away saying something that no one else in the ballpark can hear in between innings.
I know there will be many of you who say “hey, you’re not supposed to argue balls and strikes,” “Tulo is a veteran who should know better,” or “hey, it was a good pitch and he had no argument in the first place.” Sorry, not buying that. Umpires should not, in anything other than extreme circumstances which imperil their very control over the game (i.e. beanball wars, fights, extreme and excessive confrontations) be ejecting players from playoff games. The outcome should be dictated by the players on the field, not the officials exercising what they consider to be their power.
Know what real power for an umpire is? Making your call and making it clear that nothing the players who are mad about it say makes a lick of difference. A power move is to totally and 100% ignore someone whining like Tulowitzki was whining. To act as if you can’t even hear him and, even if you did, that it doesn’t matter anyway. That’s what an umpire should be doing in these sorts of situations, not having his attention taken from his in-between inning routine and showing how big a man he is by depriving one team of one of its most important players.
In almost every situation, the first person to raise their voice in an argument is the loser. The person who escalates a situation the weaker party. While John Hirschbeck is one of the better umpires in the game, he showed himself to be the weaker party here, and by doing so could have very easily affected the outcome of a playoff game. That’s simply unacceptable.