The story might be apocryphal, as it’s been attributed to many umpires, but it nonetheless captures how umpiring used to be, back in the day.
A batter gets called out on strikes, and tosses his bat into the air. The arbiter says, “Son, if that bat comes down, you’re out of the game.”
It used to be that I admired baseball umpires, the Men in Blue. They were beyond reproach, and when the heat was on, it was the players or the managers who lost their cool and acted the fool.
But along the way — and I’m guessing it began occurring in the 1990s — umpires became more and more irascible and confrontational. It was a time when many of the old guard from the 1960s and ’70s were retiring.
It’s only gotten worse in the 21st century. Players are met more and more with glares and long stares at even the slightest hint of disagreement. The umpires are no longer the reactors — they’re proactors to a further degree than I can remember.
Mike Winters, umpiring a San Diego Padres game over the weekend, has been suspended by MLB for his actions in that contest, in which he — according to baseball officials — baited Padres outfielder Milton Bradley, which led to a vicious argument and Bradley badly hurting his knee while being restrained by his manager.
It’s funny that it should happen with Bradley, who’s not exactly a choir boy himself. But good for MLB, because this baiting of players by umpires has gotten way out of hand. Winters was suspended, baseball said, for using profanity when Bradley asked him whether he’d told another umpire that Bradley had thrown a bat toward that umpire.
It certainly isn’t the first time an umpire has used profanity, but in the old days, it was in response to a first strike by a player or manager. Today’s umps are letting the “F” bombs fly FIRST, and are generally acting as if they are above all, including the very rules they are employed to uphold.
Let’s hope that the suspension of Winters, an MLB ump since 1990, sends a message to his brothers in blue: players may be a pain in the keister, but it is they who fans pay to see. And initiating confrontations that are destined to result in ejections isn’t what an umpire’s role is designed to be.