‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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Way back in the late 1970s and ‘80s, there lived a Yankee Stadium press room fixture whose son was an American League umpire.
We’ll keep the names out of this to protect both the innocent and the guilty. Suffice to say, though, that the old Yankees beat writer for a New Jersey paper not named The Record or The Star-Ledger took a rather dim view of his son’s choice of livelihood.
“Umpires,” he’d scoff over his pregame meal. “They all got egos. Every one of ‘em!”
He was always quick to include his offspring in that group, even as he watched his boy’s handiwork live and in person whenever that crew came to town.
That snippet of conversation from almost 30 years ago bears some significance today. Apparently, things haven’t changed much, as indicated by Yankees catcher Russell Martin’s interactions with plate umpire Laz Diaz in Wednesday night’s game in Anaheim. It is a certainty that the egos of some umpires — who by the way should go largely unnoticed if they’re doing their job properly — are alive and well.
Martin perhaps unwisely decided to call Diaz on his balls-and-strikes judgement early in the game. In return for the catcher’s opinions, Diaz refused Martin’s request to let him throw a new ball back to the pitcher when the previous one was hit or taken out of play. Martin likes to do that to keep his arm loose in case somebody tries to steal on him.
Instead, Diaz threw it back himself, claiming such an act was a “privilege” that had to be earned.
If that’s the case, there are a lot of high-achieving catchers on all levels of professional baseball. It’s common to see an ump place a new ball in a catcher’s mitt, whether he’s asked for it or not.
But Diaz would have none of it.
Caution. Ego at work.
Martin said he thought Diaz was trying to bait him into getting thrown out, and that sounds fair enough. Some umpires bait players and managers, even as baseball has urged umpires to spread calm over troubled waters. Some have persistently quick hooks.
But the good ones, the ones who don’t let their egos get in the way, give the squawkers their say. Some might even be too tolerant, like the minor league umpire this writer witnessed last year. Love that guy. He let a manager survive even as the Single-A skipper turned what surely was an all-time record six straight phrases into pure poetry.
Now there’s an ump devoid of ego.
Obviously, there are situations where an ump must put one or two people in the timeout chair. A few years ago, during his too-short but solid Yankees career, Johnny Damon took exception to a called strike three. As he flipped his bat and stomped his feet, Joe Girardi flew out of the dugout to protect his player.
It was probably the fastest the former catcher had moved in years.
Exactly one footfall before Girardi reached them, out went Damon.
A second after that, out went Girardi, too.
All that speed and energy wasted. Such a shame.
Damon admitted he had it coming, though, and had no qualms about proclaiming the umpire a good one. But just like in previous decades, there are plenty of the other kind, too. Those guys need to remember that the game isn’t all about them.
So when something “strange and mystifying” happens between an ump and a participant, as Martin claimed; when a player complains he’s being “punished” as Martin did, it could be the umpire’s ego in action.
And that just shouldn’t be.
Your thoughts on umpire egos? Should Diaz be punished for his treatment of Martin? Sound off in the comments below…