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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

What’s with all the helmet throwing, anyway?

Whether in the major leagues or the minor leagues, angry uniformed personnel firing their protective headgear in the direction of the game’s arbiters is in the news this week.

One such occurrence was in the Cardinals system. On Friday night, Springfield manager Mike Shildt sent his struggling Double-A club onto the field at Northwest Arkansas in an attempt to break a nine-game road losing streak. It didn’t go well for the team or its skipper.

Following the ejection of the Cards’ first-year manager as the result of a balls-and-strikes argument with Texas League umpire Matt Benham, Shildt began to walk away. Then he chose to put an explanation point on the matter when he threw aside his protective helmet, worn when coaching third base.

Unfortunately, the airborne helmet hit the umpire in the head. The video tends to indicate that the result was unintended.

An embarrassed Shildt did not appeal his three-game suspension and began serving it immediately. In his first game away on Saturday night, the Cardinals broke their unenviable franchise-record road losing streak, which had grown to 10 games.

On Tuesday, Brett Lawrie of the Toronto Blue Jays had a comparable event set off by frustration over a pair of questionable calls in the ninth inning of his team’s loss to Tampa Bay.

After striking out on back-to-back pitches that appeared to be out of the strike zone, Toronto’s second-year third baseman reacted by screaming into the face of home-plate umpire Bill Miller. That was not surprising.

Lawrie didn’t stop there, though. When he slammed his helmet into the ground, it bounced up and hit Miller in the hip, which certainly will result in a suspension from Major League Baseball. The only question is how many games he will sit.

ESPN’s Keith Law, coincidentally a former Blue Jays employee, tweeted this reaction:

“The solution is not to suspend Brett Lawrie for ten or twenty games. The solution is to get the damn calls right.”

In an ideal world, that is of course the optimal solution. Here in the real world, however, that is entirely unrealistic. Improving umpiring quality is a worthy goal, but eliminating disagreements is impossible.

Frustration with umpiring is a long-standing part of the game, but so is the “hands-off” policy. No matter how “right” they might be, coaches and players, young and old, need to remain on the other side of that line at all times.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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57 Responses to “What’s with all the helmet throwing, anyway?”

  1. Kansasbirdman says:

    I’ve been to that park, but not a game. It’s a really nice facility, my sister lives in Centerton, AR, near there, they go to games sometimes, I need to make it down there when the Spr Cards are playing the Naturals. Course, I need to go to Springfield too. So little time.

    • kray66 says:

      I would like to check out the Naturals stadium too. My firm opened an office in Bentonville, so I keep trying to schedule a “business trip” when the Cards are in town. I’d also like to visit the team that has the Henry the Puffy Taco mascot, but I think that involves a trip to Texas.

  2. Kansasbirdman says:

    Brian, I hope that soon in your travels around the Card’s farms system you will get to see this guy play some baseball:

  3. crdswmn says:

    Yes, there has always been frustration over umpiring, but that frustration has grown exponentially over the last few years, because bad umpiring has grown exponentially. I cannot remember a time when the number of egregiously bad calls made by MLB umpires has been as high as it has been the last two or three years. And the answer from the Commissioner’s office has always been the same–“The umpires do a great job”. Head in the sand at its finest. Perhaps it’s fear of the umpire’s union, perhaps it is something else, but the Commissioner’s office has taken ignoring the problem to new heights. And the suspensions just keep on coming. I don’t condone the behavior, but I understand it’s source. When the school refuses to do something about the bullies, the kids have to fight back. Instant replay is not the solution; holding umpires accountable is. But that would require Bud Selig and Joe Torre to grow a pair.

    • Kansasbirdman says:

      What’s the CW on pros and cons of instant replay or a computer generated strikezone balls and strikes calls?

      • crdswmn says:

        Lots of people want Instant Replay but not for balls and strikes yet. I don’t want it for anything. I think it it slows the game down unnecessarily when there is a better solution—-accountability for umpires. Some kind of system that punishes umpires in a grading system or escalating system for multiple occurrences should be tried. MLB holds players and coaches accountable for their actions and why they don’t do the same for umpires is beyond me.

        • kray66 says:

          Completely agree with not wanting to slow the game down anymore, and with holding the umpires more accountable. Are umpires subject to regular vision tests? I know it sounds like an old joke, but I sometimes wonder if some of these guys are getting a little fuzzy and blowing the calls because of that.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Have you seen any actual data that might confirm this perceived exponential growth in bad umpiring?

      • crdswmn says:

        No, but I don’t normally do a statistical study before expressing my opinions. I watch baseball for 40 years, I express an opinion about trends I see. Perceived? Of course it is. I believe I said it was based on my memory.

        No one has to agree with me, you know. I won’t take it personally. 🙂

    • blingboy says:

      Umpiring has not gotten worse, but the bad calls are brought to our attention a lot more, and some fans and media are increasingly unwilling to gracefully accept that human element.

      I’m perfectly fine with the status quo, and would hate to see the game sterilized and sanitized either by instant reply or by the suits sticking their nose into on-field issues. So an ump gets boinked by a helmet now and then and a guy serves his time, big deal.

      • blingboy says:

        I didn’t include players, coaches and managers because, as far as I can tell, they have never been very gracefull at accepting bad calls. That’s another human element I’d hate to see go.

      • crdswmn says:

        Personally, I don’t see it as “part of baseball” that umpires aren’t held accountable. What industry do you know of where employees are not held accountable in some form or fashion, for persistent mistakes? If there is going to be discipline for players and coaches, why shouldn’t there be for umpires? Maybe, as Brian seems to be suggesting, I am wrong that umpiring has gotten worse, but that really wasn’t the crux of my complaint. It seems to me a double standard is in place that rewards bad calls for umpires through a lack of any incentive to do better. Yes, TV, the internet and the media have brought more attention to the issue, but shouldn’t that attention be a reason to try to ameliorate the problem? Perception is often more harmful than reality, especially in an industry where fan good will brings dollars.

        I am not suggesting public flogging for umpires. But something that gives the public at least the perception that umpires aren’t free to do as they will with no repercussions for screwing up royally would go a long way.

        • blingboy says:

          I’d be happy with a system where the league, or MLB, could call up or send down umpires as is done with players. With more restriction as an ump gains service time. But still retaining the ability to do it, with the veteran ump choosing to accept the assignment or find a new job.

          If a player’s performance falls off, there is always a guy waiting to take his job, and can’t see why it has to be different with the umps.

        • crdswmn says:

          And not to mention, keeping umpires from influencing the outcome of games, which everyone should be against. The play of the game should influence the outcome, not power drunk men who don’t even play.

          • blingboy says:

            The certainty and extent to which bad calls affected outcomes would be a main factor in sending umps down, with Denkinger having been sent to the pee wee league in Elbonia.

      • Brian Walton says:

        I agree bb, that the greater attention has led to the unrest, rather than necessarily a decline in umpiring quality, especially an exponential one.

        Like I said above, I am fine with greater accountability, but there will always be disputes. Physical ones are never acceptable, IMO.

  4. kray66 says:

    Also, did I understand correctly that the All-Star and Postseason games are now on a crew rotation instead of a merit system? I thought I had heard that somewhere, but could be wrong. I think those games should be awarded to the better umpires, and they should be paid accordingly for those special games. Give them some incentive to make better calls and treat players/managers fairly.

    • blingboy says:

      I’m not anti-union, kray, but that’s not how they like to do things. I assume post-season assignments and pay are covered in the collective bargaining agreement. I’m just guessing, though.

  5. blingboy says:

    Good luck tonight in San Fran. Too bad Brickhands is on their DL.

  6. WesPowell says:

    I think a lot of the umpire-player exchanges could be eliminated if not all. If I were an umpire whenever a manager or player came storming toward me about a call I just made I would say this as soon as they got to me——C’mon man. I have to make thousands of these calls, in a split second. I do my best. I have no favorites or enemies. If the replay after the game showed I missed it, I apologize.

  7. Brian Walton says:

    Frank Crosetti was suspended for the first month of the 1943 season after shoving umpire Bill Summers during the 1942 World Series. He was also fined $200.

  8. WesPowell says:

    I’ve always admired umpires that can take it like a man and understand the players intensity, particularly in a big game and not possibly determine the outcome by tossing someone. I recall game 6 in the 1987 NL playoffs against the Giants, Giants up three games to two. The Cards won 1-0. Worrel fanned Will Clark on a called strike in a big situation, I believe a full count. Clark turned, leaned towards the ump and absolutely hollered. Almost nose to nose. A couple of emphatic barks in a couple seconds and then he headed to the dugout. I’d bet there was a cussword too. The ump could have fell back on the old no-no about showing up the ump in an exaggerated manner on balls and strikes, and answered it with an exaggerated you’re out of the game motion.

    But he let it go.

  9. WesPowell says:

    If he had said something back to Clark, then Clark would have returned fire and it would have deteriorated to Clark being tossed probably. In a playoff game that was 1-0. It’s ridiculous.

  10. WesPowell says:

    Someone brought up instant replay. I get a kick out of this—— A team is down 4-1 and batting in the bottom of the ninth. Two outs bases loaded. The batter hits a controversial homer to win that was not clearly seen for whatever reason. This can be reviewed. But a line rocket down the line that hits in a blur right along the line, to tie the game, cannot be reviewed. And then the slow motion media replay shows the call made was wrong.

  11. WesPowell says:

    I suppose the problem there would be if the ump called the missile down the line a foul ball, then the action stops, so if you were to review it and see it was fair, what the heck do you do? You don’t know what would have happened. So I guess at minimum, it should be able to be reviewed if called fair.

    • crdswmn says:

      I’m opposed to instant replay in baseball, mostly because I think it will slow the game down to a crawl in a sport that is already slow as it is (esp. AL ball). After all it it the only major sport (unless you count tennis) that doesn’t have a time limit. But here is a perspective that I bet many instant replay advocates haven’t thought about. It is relevant to your point.

      • Nutlaw says:

        Instant replay is one thing. Letting the cameras define balls and strikes should be just as quick, given how quickly the tv broadcasts can display them.

        Instead of calling balls and strikes, the ump could instead slap Skip upside the head every time he makes tens of thousands of people watch him play with his gloves.

  12. WesPowell says:

    Also of note is that in many cases the bad call is over-emphasized.

    In our famous one, Denkinger. we led that series 3-1. We scored 1 run in the first inning of game 5 then were shut out the last 8. Then we scored a total of one run in the last two games. So we scored 1 run in the final 26 innings of the series and then blamed the ump for us losing.

  13. WesPowell says:

    Sorry, but things just keep popping into my mind—–I always fantasized to see one of those plays where the easy ground ball goes through the wickets of the infielder, and an ump just storms at him and chews him out for 60 seconds. Or the manager puts in the reliever and he gives up a homer and the ump runs over to the dugout and starts cussing at the manager.

    • Kansasbirdman says:

      I see what you are saying, and a creative illustration. But I would say that it is different bc a bad call can be reversed, no? A ball through the wicket cannot be taken back. I would guess that even the ump or officiating crew would like to get a call right (change it) if they had some evidence to support a different call.
      Not saying that I advocate instant replay, just saying the situation might be different.

  14. WesPowell says:

    crdswmn—–I agree that REAL instant replay would complicate matters……but if you have it, you should have it. If not, don’t have it at all. Not some mickey mouse deal where one kind of play can be reviewed.

  15. WesPowell says:

    We can have fake triples, or fake baserunners from bad calls at first, or fake catches on those quick bounces right in front of the outfielders glove….But we simply cannot tolerate fake homers. That unAmerican.

  16. WesPowell says:

    Last thought—I promise (with fingers crossed)……..We have had a boatload of big trades that have gone our way. Amazing record really. But the biggest one right now that went our way happened somewhere else. The Reds have some tough young players. Votto is a stud. Bruce is more erratic but could be. Add Josh Hamilton in there right now and it would be bad for us. Thank the good lord they traded him.

  17. WesPowell says:

    And before departing ( with fingers uncrossed)—C’mon guys. Let’s get 3 of 5 on this tiring west coast visit.

  18. Brian Walton says:

    I read a very entertaining article suspecting Jose Molina as being the cause of the Lawrie incident

    • blingboy says:

      Great article, thanks for the link. Framing pitches and dragging them into the zone inconspicuously is another time honored tradition just like the mini bru-ha-ha that ensued.

      Chest bumping, going nose to nose, kicking dirt on the umps shoes or on the plate, gesticulating wildly and stomping around, getting tossed, getting your manager tossed, all part of the game. Nothing wrong with any of it.

  19. blingboy says:

    Guess my comment went into the filter.

  20. blingboy says:

    Schmalbert schmacked one so now he has more Homers than the Simpsons.

  21. blingboy says:

    If Craig ends up on the DL Mo will wish he had Konatsu back. Is Hamilton healthy now? Maybe he’d get his chance.

    Glad to see Garcia have a great outing, and Freese break out of his mini-slump.

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