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.