The Umpire Strikes Back
OK, I’m sorry, this was absolutely hilarious.
I’ll go over this second by second because it’s truly a classic that should be cherished … but essentially it comes down to this: After a time violation, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto put up his glove to get a new ball. And just as umpire prospect Randy Rosenberg tried to throw the ball in the glove, Realmuto put his glove down.
Rosenberg thought Realmuto was trying to show him up and ejected him.
It was the first time J.T. Realmuto has ever been ejected from a game.
The ejection was, of course, ridiculous and silly and undoubtedly due to Rosenberg’s insecurity as a young umpire trying to prove himself. I think there’s a larger point that goes along with that. We’ll get to it in a minute.
First, let’s break this down. This happened in a spring training game between the Phillies and Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., which has always been one of my favorite spring training city names. Done-EEE-done. I love it. Plus, Don Zimmer lived there.
It was the fourth inning and Craig Kimbrel was on the mound for the Phillies. Yeah, he’s on the Phillies now. It’s been hard to keep up … what an odd career. The first five years of his career, when he was with Atlanta, Kimbrel looked like a surefire Hall of Famer. He was, in his own way, reinventing what a relief pitcher looked like. He led the league in saves in each of his first four full seasons, he had a 1.43 ERA, a 1.52 FIP, he struck out 15 batters per nine innings, he was simply an unhittable force.
Then he went to the Padres … the Red Sox … the Cubs … the White Sox … the Dodgers … he had good years and rough ones, he kept on striking out the world and being generally unhittable, but he gave up a bunch more home runs and lost the plate at times and, well, it just hasn’t been quite as magical as it was. In any case, he’s almost 35 now and with the Phillies on a one-year deal; it will be interesting to see how it works out.
So, Kimbrel had a 1-2 count on Danny Jansen. He got into his famous crouching “I am Batman” pose and stared in. The pitch clock ticked down. In order to beat the clock, the pitcher has to start the windup — that is to say, lift the front knee — before the time hits 0:00. Kimbrel lifted his knee just an instant after the clock ran out. In fact, if you look at the replay, you can see Kimbrel and Rosenberg in a little dance — Kimbrel lifts his knee at precisely the same time that Rosenberg lifts his arms to call the time violation. Rosenberg charged him with the automatic ball.
Super close … but umpires were instructed to be merciless in their calls this spring so that everybody would understand that the new rules are real and important and will be enforced fully.
And here’s where, I believe, the two sides began to diverge. Rosenberg, I suspect, braced himself for some blowback; after all, he’s a Class AAA umpire trying to win respect from the players, and he makes this ticky-tack call. I think he was prepared for a fight.
And Kimbrel, well, he didn’t seem interested in a fight at all. He seemed annoyed, yeah, but he’s been around the block a few times, he wasn’t about to go all Incredible Hulk on an umpire for calling a 1-2 time violation in a spring training game. He tossed the ball away and requested a new one. And then something odd happened. Realmuto put up his glove to get the new ball, but instead Rosenberg threw it directly to Kimbrel.
So Realmuto put his glove down.
Kimbrel took the new ball, kind of felt it, and he didn’t like it — something about the seams, maybe? That reminds me of something that has stayed stuck in my head for many decades. Former umpire Ron Luciano wrote about how annoying he found it when he would throw a perfectly good ball to a pitcher who would promptly reject it. So what he started to do was put the rejected baseballs back in his little baseball bag, and later in the game he would insert them back into the game. And he said, time after time, the same pitcher who discarded the ball the first time would use it the second time.
He said there was only one pitcher who consistently rejected the same balls time after time after time, no matter how many times Luciano tried his trick.
Can you guess?
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