For umpires, ejections need to be last resort

It was certainly not Yadier Molina‘s finest hour yesterday afternoon. After putting what he thought was a hit through the gap between the third baseman and the shortstop, Molina cruised his way to first. Except that Giants’ shortstop Brandon Crawford made a great play on the ball and threw Molina out by half a step. Frustrated by what he should have gotten, Molina threw his helmet to the ground and turned towards the dugout. Behind him umpire Clint Fagan threw Molina out.

Rule 9.01 (d) of the MLB rulebook reads, “Each umpire has the authority to disqualify any player, coach, manager or substitute for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language, and to eject such a disqualified person from the playing field.”

By the letter of the law, the ejection was correct. Molina throwing the helmet at the ground is an unsportsmanlike gesture. Except that players get away with it 99% of the time. If umpires always ejected players for throwing things, I’d be cool with the ejection of Molina because he should have known better. But in the heat of the moment, it’s a totally acceptable response that rarely gets called.

It was a pretty easy call as far as umpiring calls go. The ball clearly beat him with the naked eye.

What I really have a problem with is umpires that seem to believe that every outburst of emotion is targeted at them. Sometimes players are just mad they made a mistake. To me, there isn’t a reason for an umpire to react like Fagan did unless he was concerned that he made a mistake on the call and wanted to reinforce his authority in the wake of it.

It is also ridiculous that umpires are hidden after making a call like that. If an umpire ejects a player or manager from the game, he should be required to explain it to reporters. Fagan is a rookie umpire, so the team’s crew chief Tim Welke (who has made some fantastic blunders himself, like this one where he called the runner out despite Todd Helton being a yard off the base) refused to let him speak (a bogus rule to begin with, he’s 31 years old and perfectly capable of speaking for himself). Welke said the objection was due to “obvious discontent over the call.”

Was Molina discontent over the call? Probably. Did he think Fagan got it right? Probably.

And that’s the key difference. The line that has to be drawn for umpires. Any time a call goes against a player they aren’t going to like it. That doesn’t mean they object to the call. Sometimes players are just mad at something they could have done differently to create a different result.

Regardless of a players’ actions, the umpire is still in charge. Umpires have to remember this and act like they are in charge. And when you’re in charge, a lot of times it comes down to what you don’t do more than what you do.

It’s a common expression in other sports where penalties are called by officials during the course of play to let them play the game. Let the players play the game. Sometimes you let things go. If a player is unhappy with a call you made, it doesn’t change anything. The call is still made and you are still in charge. If the player wants to get in your face or threaten you, then the line has been crossed and its time to assert your authority.

Ejections need to be used as a last course of action, not the first reaction.

There was contact made between Molina and an umpire during the course of the argument that followed the ejection, that usually warrants a suspension. But from the replay it doesn’t appear like he made contact with Fagan at all. The only umpire he made contact with was the one that initiated contact with him by getting in front of him. That’s not Molina’s fault and shouldn’t be something he’s suspended for.

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