So we’ve all been talking non stop about the controversial ejection of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina in Sunday’s game against the San Francisco Giants. Many of us were outraged at the umpire’s action and expressed ourselves accordingly. Some defended the umpire, saying the rules clearly support the ejection as “unsportsmanlike conduct” and cite examples of such ejections in the past. Still others say the fault lies in Molina not running hard out of the box initially, thus possibly negating the issue entirely. As is the case in situations like this, there is merit to all of these arguments.
Despite what some non baseball fans cite as a slow and boring game, plays like the one in question on Sunday happen very quickly and in hindsight and with the availability of replay video, it is easy to judge the yay or nay of the outcome. In the case of the Molina Ejection, the basic outcome of the baseball play seems to be garnering little dispute—Molina was out. The umpire made the correct call. In this case the dispute lies in what happened afterward. The intricacies of human behavior as captured on video with no sound available lends the viewer to different interpretations, which then lead to different viewpoints on the outcome. And let’s be honest, bias creeps in there too, which colors one’s viewpoint. Is anyone surprised that many fans of the Cincinnati Reds saw the incident in the worst light possible for Molina? Probably if it had been Chris Carpenter involved those same fans would be calling for him to be brought up on charges and thrown in the hoosegow.
After the game, not surprisingly, the first question out of the box to Mike Matheny from the press was about the ejection. What was surprising, at least to me, was the outspoken candor from Matheny about what happened and what he thought of it. Generally when controversial umpiring calls happen, managers are more circumspect about what they say, knowing of course that direct criticism of the umpire(s) could lead to a fine. ”It was a bang, bang, play……blah, blah”, is usually what you hear. Not so in this case. Matheny preceded to let it fly, saying the call was unnecessary, that the umpire had to be looking for it, and a few other things. It was clear that Matheny was mad as heck and wasn’t going to take it anymore.
I’ve been watching baseball for a very long time, and through the years have picked up many of the unwritten rules, code, slang, gestures, hidden messages, etc, etc that occur in the game. When a manager speaks out like Mike Matheny did, knowing that it was likely to impact his wallet, he is sending a loud and clear message. The umpire blew it, not the call, but his duty to respect the game. Bengie Molina said it best when he told the press that the umpire “didn’t have a feel for the game”. Among the unwritten rules of baseball there is an oft cited maxim that a good umpire is one that is not even noticed. Umpires who create controversy, and thus make the game more about them than the players, are a pariah to the game of baseball. This is the message that was being sent. Clint Fagan may have made himself famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view), but he disrespected the game.
I personally think the call was unnecessary. Molina, from my perspective, clearly did not throw his helmet to show up the umpire. He didn’t look at the umpire, speak to the umpire, and in fact had his back turned and was walking toward the dugout and had to be verbally told that he had been ejected. I understand about the rule, I understand that other players have been ejected for similar conduct. I also know other players have not been ejected for similar conduct, so it is not a black and white, hard and fast rule. Context matters when a judgment has to be made. This is what Bengie Molina meant when he talked about having a feel for the game. A more experienced umpire (with some exceptions, guess who) would likely have interpreted Molina’s actions as self flagellation and let it slide.
Hopefully, what happened on Sunday will not result in a suspension for Molina. Under the circumstances , I think a suspension would just exacerbate the situation and would solve nothing. A fine for throwing his helmet should serve the purpose. Let’s hope the powers at MLB see it that way. As for the umpire, maybe this experience gave him a better “feel for the game”. That would be a good outcome.