April 28, 2006
For a while on Wednesday evening, the story spread like the old children's game of telephone. I was initially told that Delmon Young threw a bat and hit the home plate umpire in the mid-section. Another version had Young throwing his bat down, only to have it bounce back up and hit the ump in the leg. While the initial AP story cleared things up a bit, it still wasn't exactly clear just what happened. Something bad had occurred, but I was still unsure of exactly how bad it was.
The video hit ESPN by yesterday afternoon and, quite frankly, it shocked me. For some reason, a number of stories on Wednesday night's incident categorized Young's action of physically sending the bat hurtling towards the home plate umpire as a "flip." While Young is just barely off screen when the bat hurtles towards the umpire--and by all accounts Young delivered it underhanded--it's clearly not a flip. There was, to make an awful comparison, bat speed. To be kind, it was a fling; to be more realistic, it was a throw. But to me, it clearly had malice and intent.
And just like that, Delmon Young has made the first three minutes of the ESPNews cycle for the first time in his baseball career. Funny, I thought it would be because he hit a baseball with his bat, as opposed to an umpire.
What was becoming a troubling track record for the talented Young has become that much more troubling. We had clues that this sort of thing was possible, but we--the small but intense group that focuses on prospects and the minor leagues--ignored them. Makeup is a funny thing. I've yet to have anyone give me a consistent definition of it, yet at the same time it is unquestionably important. When Young was coming out of high school, some saw him as aloof and arrogant--this was twisted into mature and unflappable. Then last year, we witnessed a disturbing predecessor to Wednesday's incident. Early in 2005, while playing for Double-A Montgomery, Young was suspended for bumping an umpire while arguing a called third strike (sound familiar?). And like what happened at Pawtucket, it didn't end there as Young and umpire Jeff Latter continued their confrontation after the game. That incident came less than a week after Young threw his bat (sound familiar?) in the air towards the pitcher after getting hit by a pitch. Yet in the end, his makeup was praised as the incidents were all but washed over as isolated occurrences.
We had a track record here, but we covered it up--maybe because we were so excited about his ability. Delmon Young has a problem, and it's time to stop making excuses for him.
Yet, the attempts to provide some sort of absolution continues, as the initial wire story contained two quotes that astounded me:
"We've had some problems with different umpires and it's tough. But I can't say any more."
"In most of my dealings with Delmon in the past, he has handled himself in a respectful, professional manner... I can only hope this does not tarnish the career of such a fine, young prospect. Furthermore, I would speculate the whole incident could have been avoided had properly trained, professional umpires been officiating the game."
There's almost a sliver of rationality in Tamargo's statement, as one could weakly argue that he has to protect his player. I support the striking minor league umpires and their cause, but for Hubler to even release a statement on the incident comes off as both opportunistic and grandstanding. Not to mention the fact that the content of the statement is utterly laughable. Did the replacement ump miss the call? The pitch sure looked outside to me. Did he handle the situation in a professional manner? The only people who may ever know that are Young, the umpire and PawSox catcher Corky Miller. But no matter how bad the call was, or how the umpire dealt with Young's dissatisfaction with it, to place even the smallest percentage of blame whatsoever on anybody but Young for what happened is distracting and totally irrelevant.
Young made a statement yesterday through his agent, Arn Tellem, which is exactly how you make a statement that nobody will take seriously. And while Young said all the right things, the International League and the Devil Rays need to act, and act quickly. Both organizations can expect the MLBPA to file an appeal on Young's behalf, as Young is protected by the organization by virtue of being on a 40-man roster. My suggestion? 90 days. That's over half the year, and would allow Young to rejoin his team for the final month of the season. During that 90-day period, he should also be mandated to attend anger management counseling. What Young did on Wednesday night threatens the integrity of the game just as much as--if not more than--a player taking steroids, which currently carries a 50-game penalty in the minors for a first offense. What if the bat went just a little higher and hit the umpire in the face? What if the umpire had to leave the game holding a bloody towel? Where would we be then? With people still making excuses?
No matter what penalty comes down, Young will be paying a price for his actions for some time. Rookies already have to deal with an expanded strike zone when they first reach the big leagues. I'm not saying it's right, but it is reality. How big will Young's be when he gets there? Replacement umpire or not, the fact that Young threw a bat at an umpire is on his resume forever, and every man in blue with be thinking about it every time he steps to the plate for a very long time.
On my first day at Baseball Prospectus, I conducted a chat that included the following exchange:
Cowboy: Delmon Young - career path - Ken Griffey Jr. or Andruw Jones?
Let's hope Delmon Young turns things in the right direction, or we can just chop off the last three words of my answer.