What A Waste!

One of the parts of baseball that I really do not enjoy is arguing with umpires. I understand that in the heat of the moment disagreements take place and that players and managers will naturally express their displeasure with incorrect (or perceived-to-be incorrect) calls on the field. This happens in all sports. But no other sport tolerates the level of disagreement that baseball does. This past weekend, two ugly incidents occurred. And sadly you can easily view both of them via YouTube.

The first is Cubs manager Lou Pinella making a total ass of himself by berating an umpire who probably got the call right. And even if he didn’t, it’s not like he was clearly wrong. Pinella kicks dirt, his hat, and the umpire (inadvertently). For the last of these he was suspended by the the league. Later Pinella would admit that the call didn’t matter. He was just blowing off steam.

Here is Mississippi Braves manager Phil Wellman demonstrating to his players that “make up” includes acting like child and attempting to publicly humiliate the umpires by mocking them.

That Wellman is still employed by the Braves is an embarrassment to the organization. He should be fired immediately. Now, you may wonder if firing a minor league manager for a tirade is consistent when their major league skipper Bobby Cox is on the verge of breaking the league ejection record. Well, I’m not going to defend Cox—however, I do believe his ejections are product of the system that encourages arguing—but, what he does is very different. Cox does not kick dirt or dismantle bases. He makes his point, defends his players, and gets off the field. Wellman, like Pinella, is putting on a show for the crowd: “look at me, and let’s all laugh at the umps together!” Can we get back to the baseball game, please!

I will admit this is somewhat amusing, but there are many substitutes for this type of behavior that don’t interrupt a baseball game: America’s Funniest Home Videos, Cops, and home movies of my three-year-old when she doesn’t get her way. I would prefer not to witness this, and especially not have to explain it to my children. Most kids get “don’t do crack”, tantrums they can identify with.

But isn’t there a strategic element to all of this? Maybe the umpires will know that if they call the game against you they will get an earful; therefore, they are partial to a particular team. That managers think this is a possibility is part of the problem. Managers know that they have to complain or risk being out-complained by the other manager. The end result is that we get a lot of arguing but it doesn’t affect the outcome of the game. In The Baseball Economist I look at how managers may influence ball-strike calls on the field in Questec and non-Questec monitored ballparks and find that managers have very little effect on swaying umpires. In order to gain an advantage, or prevent the opposing manager from gaining an advantage, managers expend energy that will gain them nothing in the end. This is what economists call rent-seeking behavior.

The solution to all of this bad behavior is a low-tolerance policy and increased punishments. Umpires should give immediate warnings and quickly toss an offending party. Once a manager or player is tossed, he is escorted from the field by security immediately. Tantrums or refusing to leave the field will result in multiple-game suspensions and hefty fines. This type of behavior is not tolerated in basketball or football, why should it be any different in baseball.

Complaints about bad umpiring should be handled off the field. Umpires should be heavily-monitored and graded by Questec systems in every ballpark. If mangers and players feel that an umpire is acting wrongly—and many umpires are in need of some discipline—the league should take action off the field. All of this on-field posturing is wasted effort. The league wants to shorten games, so let’s get rid of this aspect of the game.

14 Responses “What A Waste!”

  1. Greg says:

    Arguing with umpires is part of baseball. And when you say that they are expending energy for no gain, that simply isn’t true. Its the SAME as in basketball especially, when a coach will heckly a ref for an entire game. Most of the time the coach is wrong, but it may lead to getting a call that one otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.

    Baseball managers, especially when arguing balls and strikes, are actually benefiting their team, because they have the umpire thinking about his mistakes.

    They need to get out of the dugout and put on a show, becuase its the only way. A basketball coach stands about 2 feet from a ref several times a game. They yell just as much – but we don’t notice it becuase they are standing in the same place as usual.

  2. Kyle S says:

    Agreed. Wellman should have been escorted off the field immediately… his behavior at the end of his performance reveals that the entire show was nothing more than grandstanding. I think managers have a right to have their grievances heard, but showing up the umps is just silly.

  3. Jacob Rosen says:

    I always felt that umpires needed to be more strict with coaches. In the NBA, if anybody sitting on the bench even stands up, they are subject to suspension. It should be the the same in the much less popular MLB. If a coach gets out of the dugout to argue any call, they should be suspended. Same thing goes for bench-clearing brawls. It is a shame that both of these acts are still prevalent in the game.

  4. Jason says:

    Arguing balls and strikes is an automatic ejection, though, so you might expect umpires to be more insulated from manager influence on those cases than, e.g., close cases on the bases or on fair/foul or catch/trap calls.

  5. oldejoe says:

    The antics of managers are as old as the game itself… as well, there are certain plays that require a manager to complain because the play is just so important … I was at the Jays -White Sox game yesterday and Lyle Overbay was struck on the hand while, in my opinion, swinging at a pitch. He was awarded first and Guillne came out yelling. It was a close game, Overbay would have been the second out and there was a man moved to scoring position with one out. The play was too important to go without comment and the ump needed to be reminded of the rule and that he can’t be sleeping on the job. The umps know the game as well as the managers. Besides, the fans love that nonsense.
    With that said, your man from Mississippi was a tad over the top.

  6. Greg II says:

    I can not agree with my namesake. its a pointless activity. if umps showed favortism to those that yelled at them then they would be cheating the game and the fans. managers go on tirades generally to motivate the team.

    J.C. I have a question…

    What is the affect of umps on managers tirades, i.e. What role do they play in escalating the situation? Is this what you meant by “many umpires are in need of some discipline”

    and…what of escobar, is this kid gonna stick around or be part of the future.

  7. Marc Schneider says:

    Baseball is more than just a rational economic activity; it’s entertainment. Not every human endeavor need be based on the rational choice model. I agree that a lot of these outbursts are unnecessary and more than a bit childish (there is no way that a manager can actually see whether a call is right from the dugout). Most fans enjoy some of this, it’s generally harmless, and it’s a part of the lore and legend of baseball. I’m really not too worried that my 11-year old is going to start imitating Lou Piniella on the field. As for it being a waste of energy, so what? It’s a baseball game, not health care policy. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be limits; the guy in the minors should be fired because it was pretty obviously premeditated. Now, if you ask me, the truly disgraceful behavior was what you saw in tennis in the ’80s from guys like McEnroe and Connors, who acted like bullies to umpires that had no power to discipline them. I would have loved to have seen the umpire at Wimbledon that McEnroe abused forfeit him out of the tournament.

  8. Frank says:

    AJC is reporting the Braves have suspended Wellman 3 games.

  9. Beth Trammell Inman says:

    I think most athletes are a bunch of babies. Ok, that is a little harsh, sorry, I mainly just wanted to post a reply and say hello! I am in one of my googling friends mood and typed in your name…can’t wait to buy your book!
    -Beth

  10. MaryO says:

    If MLB did take an active role in dealing with out of control umpires, that would be great, however that’s not how it plays out.

    As a Padres fan, I watched a plyer and manager be ejected over a call that was not made correctly by the second base umpire (even if the committee later stumbled on the right call). CB Buckner either did not see the ball land squarely on the rail and bounce back onto the field, in which case he shouldn’t have signaled a homerun, or he didn’t know that the rail was still in play when the ball bounced off the rail and made the wrong call. EIther way his missed call, changed the play on the field. Once the homerun call was made, the players stopped playing with urgency and the untimate location on the bases of the player that hit the ball (Bard) was lost. Manager tossed, player tossed, fined and suspended (pending appeal), but what of the umpire who clearly screwed up?
    I’m usually behind the guys in blue, but there are times when they are in the wrong, yet they are never disciplined or are disciplined in private. And some continue to ignore what MLB wants them to do (like call the high strike).
    Bleh! There, I got that off my chest.

  11. Gibson Rules says:

    I think there should be some sort of point system in baseball whereby serial offenders like Pinella (who is behaving like a spoiled child this year – “But we are supposed to go to the World Series!!”) get greater punishment the more they pull this stuff (on a yearly basis). I can understand how, every once in a while, someone might blow up – these should largely be allowed. Pinella, unfortunately, has made a career out of it – and someone should put a stop to it.

  12. jon says:

    Baseball isn’t played by robots. It is played by humans with emotions and passions. If these displays can get a team fired up then I’m all for it.
    As for the umpires, many of them, especially the younger ones take any questioning of calls as a personal affront to their dignity and masculinity. I’ve seen umpires throw out ballplayers who were sitting on the bench and arguing about a call. I don’t know the exact words they said, but they weren’t ranting and raving like a three year old who doesn’t get any ice cream.
    Finally, I think that a manager can get in an umps head, not by making him afraid of the manager, but by pointing out something the other team does, or a missed call, so that he pays attention to it next time. I’m thinking specifically about “in the neighborhood” plays around second base.

  13. jpwf says:

    I grew up watching the 1970s New York teams- and as a Met fan I wished a Met player, any Met player would periodically act the way Piniella did – boy has he calmed down- when playing he’d have a tantrum like teh one that just got him suspended maybe 2-3 times a month…

    Juvenile? Yes.
    Entertaining? Yes, but to each his own I guess- what was fascinating about Piniella was how angry he would appear to get- if an ump had never seen the Piniella experience before that was funny- you’d se actual fear- not that Piniella woudl actually hurt the ump- but that Piniella would pop a vein or have a coronary- no overacting scenery chewing grade B actor has ever as overemoted anger as much as Piniella in his prime

  14. Ron says:

    I’m with JC on this. I don’t turn on the game to watch some pot bellied manager turn red in the face arguing some call that never, ever is overturned as a result. It’s fine if a manager needs to get an explanation of a ruling involving some arcane rule or if he wants to request an umpire check with the other umpires about whether a homerun was fair or foul, but all the post-ejection rants do is make the games longer. Getting ejected from a game should carry an automatic 1 game suspension with additional days and fines for repeat offenders.