Nobody Ever Paid Money to Watch an Umpire Assert His Authority

In the eighth inning of Saturday night’s loss to the Brewers, Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and manager Bud Black were ejected by home plate umpire Rob Drake for arguing balls and strikes. Of course, this is well within Drake’s right, as stipulated by Rule 9.02(a) of MLB’s Official Baseball Rules, which reads:

Any umpire’s decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.

Even if Gonzalez was correct (and evidence suggests he was not), he and Black cannot dispute the call without fear of consequence, in this case, the team losing its best hitter and manager late in a tight game. That said, Joe West’s umpiring crew had a terrible series and it’s understandable that players would grow frustrated at the inconsistent officiating. (Two other Padres expressed displeasure at Drake’s strike zone — If we are to believe Pitchf/x, Tony Gwynn Jr. did not have a legitimate gripe in the first inning on a ball at the knees, while Jerry Hairston Jr. did on an outside pitch in the sixth.)

Drake himself had a particularly embarrassing week, making one of the most “mind-boggling” calls on an appealed check swing you will ever see in an April 27 contest between the Angels and Indians at Anaheim. Suffice to say, someone owes Hideki Matsui a strike.

I’m not familiar enough with Drake’s work to comment on whether he’s a good ump in a slump (poor command, one might say) or just bad at his job. Either way, he hasn’t been performing well. It happens; you hate to see it, and if such mistakes become habitual, that needs to be addressed, but isolated incidents happen and you live with it.

What nobody should have to live with is Drake’s behavior following his ejection of Gonzalez. Fans paid to watch a baseball game between two teams of professional ballplayers. I would venture to guess that nobody paid to watch Drake stick his finger in Gonzalez’s face to show everyone in attendance “who da man.”

Like the rest of us, Drake is not immune to the pressures of daily life. It’s depressingly easy to do stupid things in stressful situations. That said, an umpire’s job involves calmly making judgments in such situations. It’s part of his skill set, in much the same way that plate discipline and opposite field power are part of Gonzalez’s. When either man loses the ability to perform these tasks, it is time to question their utility.

In fact, such a premium is placed on an umpire’s on-field behavior that it is addressed in the aforementioned Official Baseball Rules. The final paragraph of Rule 9.05 provides a critical reminder to all who would officiate an MLB game:

Finally, be courteous, impartial and firm, and so compel respect from all.

Where I come from, sticking your finger in someone else’s face is not considered courteous. Whatever Drake’s other strengths and weaknesses might be, at that place and that time, he failed to uphold his employer’s standards. This doesn’t remove responsibility from Gonzalez and Black, but Drake should not be under the misperception that his actions went unnoticed. They were noticed, and be assured, they did not “compel respect from all.”

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11 Responses »

  1. Since when do umpires care about what’s in the rule book?

  2. Umps/Refs should be so innocuous in their officiating of a game that they are literally anonymous. Their mechanics for calls should be the same as should their interpretation of the strike zone (no interpretation/call the zone as it’s written). There should be nothing that is noticeable about them other than consistency.

    Did you see the home plate ump last night? What was with the “slow-calls” on the called third strikes? That ump’s signature call? Ridiculous.

  3. I think that happens a lot. An argument over a call has more to do with a previous call than the one that is in dispute. It’s like any argument we may have that has been building over time.
    As for the finger in the face:
    Without knowing what was said, I find it hard to jump to the conclusion that Drake violated some code. There were plenty of times Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, etc. deserved a finger pointed in their face. To assume that Adrian (or Black, or anyone) should be immune from that type of treatment regardless of whether or not you know what they said, reeks of homerism. Unless you have heard the dialogue, you have nothing to complain about.
    Sorry, but I strongly disagree with you on this one. The umpires are within their right to lay down the law, and to defend themselves against verbal attacks. The Padres don’t deseve special treatment when being ejected.
    Who knows what Gonzalez said???

  4. So an umpire is supposed to just take it when managers get right in their face, spit flying, or kick dirt on their shoes, or yell and scream and call them ***** m*****f******. But as soon as an ump points a finger he’s somehow showing disrespect?

    Only baseball allows a manager/coach to come onto the field, argue calls and generally disrespect officials. And now you want them to just roll over and let the manager whip them some more?

  5. I seem to remember a complaint about Drake’s pregnant strike zone last year. From what I can look up, he’s in his third year as a major league umpire and the most junior crew member. On the MLB umpire roster, he’s not one of the minor league call-up umpires, but unlike the others in the crew, there’s no link to a bio.

    I’m under the impression that Petco is equipped with the pitchf/x equipment that MLB uses to monitor umpire performance and provide “guidance”. If so, I’m sure those in charge of the umpires will be looking at this crew’s officiating.

    I got the clear impression that the strike zone got wider as the game went on. If it was consistent, then the Padres were guilty of not adjusting. Maybe pitchf/x can determine if there were changes in the zone during the game, but the Padres surely weren’t protecting the plate with two strikes.

  6. Where do they (Brooks Baseball–interesting site in any case, worth a look if you haven’t)–get their pfx data? I’ve always wondered that about the Gameday pitch data as well–seems pretty nifty, but for all I know it’s created by folks eyeballing it at the park and entering what they think it was. E.g., as subjective as an umpire’s call. If it’s from the sensors Larry mentions–I think they might need some calibration.

    You can go onto and watch that pitch–it’s in the highlights for that game. You tell me, looking at that video, that it’s right on the inside corner. It’s not a foot off, but it’d definitely didn’t paint the corner, either (unless we’re talking spray paint).

    The strike zone was inconsistent. Pitches that had been called strikes (erroneously) previously were later called balls, and vice-versa. No adjustment possible.

  7. So, have a look at this chart from Brooks for that game:

    It’s a little hard to count, but there’s somewhere around 32 called strikes within this normalized strike zone, and about 22 outside. Not a sterling ratio. And he seemed to be much worse on his right side, e.g., the inside to Adrian.

  8. @Zach: Almost always. Those guys generally do a real good job, so much so that it’s a little startling when they don’t.

    @Mike@AJM: +1

    @parlo: It’s not homerism, it’s a pet peeve of mine. It bothers me when a member of any team gets that treatment. As for the details of their conversation, you are correct that we don’t know what Gonzalez said. We also don’t know what Drake said, only that he made a visibly aggressive gesture.

    @bigyaz: Drake could have walked away. I wish more umpires would choose that option when presented the opportunity.

    @Larry: I’m hopeful that their officiating will be reviewed. That crew had a terrible series. As for the Padres protecting with two strikes, you hit the nail on the head. Plus, let’s face it, Yovani Gallardo is a damn fine pitcher. I heard some fans at and after the game blaming Drake for the loss, which is silly. The reason the Padres lost that game is they couldn’t do anything with Gallardo, end of story.

    @Londog: I don’t know where they get their data. It’s funny, I purposely included the qualifier “If we are to believe Pitchf/x…” because, although this is exciting new technology that shows a lot of promise, it still hasn’t matured. That isn’t to say we should dismiss it, but as with all data inputs, we need to view it with a critical eye. As for the video… I’m trying to give Drake as much benefit of the doubt as I possibly can, and again, my issue is more with his behavior than the quality of his officiating… but I understand why players complained.

  9. Londog … what is “a sterling ratio”? How do you know?

  10. LynchMob: sterling silver is 92.5% silver, so if that’s the ratio Londog is referring to, of the 54 pitches called strikes, the umpire should have missed only 4, not 22. Of the 22 balls out of the normalized zone called strikes, only 2 should have been missed. Somehow, I don’t think fans would be satisfied with that performance either.

  11. LynchMob: Good point, no basis for comparison, so let’s pick another–last night’s game:

    Again, using my highly suspect method of counting (close one eye, stick out tongue, and try not to hit any twice), I count about 45 in the zone, 15 out. Plus, the worst out-of-zone strikes, at least on the right side of the plate, were less out there than in Drake’s game, but Drake may have had better “comand” of the left side.

    Then again, if you’ve (the hypothetical “you”, not LynchMob “you”) got a beef about the pitchers getting bad calls, it looks like Drake did a better job of not calling strikes as balls than Jeff Nelson, last night’s home plate ump.

    So far, in our massive sample of two, nobody’s perfect, let alone sterling, but I’d say Nelson’s performance was better.

    Umpiring–not for wimps.