The St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter needs to chill
For the good of the team, the sometimes-volatile Matt Carpenter should cool it with the ejections for the sake of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter has a knack for making salsa, fouling off two-strike pitches and arguing balls and strikes. Six times since 2014, he’s been ejected for overindulging in that last trait, most recently on April 1st of this year.
Do all those heave-hos make Carpenter a bad guy? Of course not. But is all that umbrage with umps admirable?
Fifty-six years ago, Stan Musial retired after 22 years, 3,026 games, and zero ejections. When Stan the Man died in 2013, obituaries made much of his gentlemanly demeanor. The Los Angeles Times eulogy mentioned that “Musial was known for his grace and sportsmanship — he was never ejected by an umpire during his career.”
Carpenter’s six ejections over six years may not sound like a lot, but Bryce Harper (with nine) is the only active player with more disqualifications since 2014. Besides, for every ejection, there are numerous, noisy complaints that the good umps ignore. Usually, you’ve got to go a ways to get under an arbiter’s skin, which is what Carpenter did on the first day of April, telling Vic Carapazza, “You suck!”
Matt C. is no villain. He’s a hard-working and intense player and an apparently likable teammate. An occasional eruption doesn’t diminish all the good he’s done for the Cardinals. But getting in umpire’s faces isn’t the best look for Carpenter — or any other player.
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Managers get tossed all the time, but that’s different. They’re supposed to get irate with umps, especially when protecting their ballplayers, and losing a manager rarely affects the outcome of a game. Losing a key player to a temper tantrum can be costly.
Managers and teammates have scolded Harper for getting ejected so often. “He needs to stay in the game,” his Nationals manager Matt Williams grumbled – three times — to MASNSports.com when Harper got the boot on Aug. 1, 2015. “He’s got to understand, we need him in right field,” pitcher Jake Arrieta carped after the bearded star got tossed in the fourth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Mets on April 22nd, quoted by Max Axisa of cbssports.com. “I don’t care how bad the umpire is.”
Carpenter doesn’t get castigated like Harper because he’s a veteran grinder who plays for the Cardinals. He’s not under the same kind of scrutiny, and fans and managers are quick to side with him. “He takes a lot of pride on knowing the strike zone, and I don’t blame him for being mad,” ex-manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com after Carpenter got ejected on Aug. 23, 2015.
Carpenter has an excellent batting eye but that doesn’t mean he’s always right. His first four ejections occurred when protesting called strikes that missed the plate, according to closecallsports.com. But the website insists his last two ejections came after umpires made the right calls.
Of course, players rarely lose it over one ball-and-strike call. Often, their frustration has built up for a while, sometimes dating to previous games when the offending ump was behind the plate.
Carpenter’s ejections are an outlier for a Cardinals franchise that seems to specialize in keep-their-cool personalities. Musial holds the major league record for most games played without an ejection, followed by Willie Mays and Brooks Robinson. Ex-Cardinals Curt Flood, George Hendrick and Willie McGee were never booted. Same with Paul Goldschmidt — so far.
Besides Carpenter, catchers Yadier Molina (two) and Matt Wieters (three) are the only current Cardinals with multiple ejections since 2014, and Wieters got his DQs before joining the Redbirds this spring.
That said, getting an ejection or two doesn’t make one a disgrace to the youth of America.
A 2014 Deseret News story reported that Lou Gehrig “got tossed for cursing at Ty Cobb” and that “Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn both were ejected more than once.” Grantland Rice said the supposedly saintly Christy Mathewson “handed the game a certain touch of class,” but in April of 1905, the New York hurler punched a young vendor selling lemonade during a Giants-Phillies game.
As for ejection-free ballplayers, some are far less laudable than Stan the Man. One of the most notorious figures to play in the big leagues, Hal Chase appeared in 1,919 games (an ironic number considering the fixing of the 1919 World Series) without being ejected, yet he was quick to “throw” games for a buck — a 2001 biography by Martin Donell Kohout was titled, Hal Chase: The Defiant Life and Turbulent Times of Baseball’s Biggest Crook.
Pinky Higgins, a third baseman in the thirties and forties, appeared in 1,802 games without an ejection but earned a different kind of infamy by declaring as a Red Sox manager (1955-62) that “there would never be any [derogatory]” on the team as long as he was manager, according to Howard Bryant in 2013’s Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston. I’m not going to include the word but the comment was extremely racist.
A tightly strung player who can’t bear to sit, Carpenter is intense to a fault. There’s a lot to love about that, and a person can’t completely reverse his nature. Cardinals fans would hate to see Carp mellow out and stop producing. Blow-outs that lead to throw-outs do the team no good. For the sake of Carp and the Cardinals, let’s hope the salsa-maker finds milder ways of expressing his displeasure.