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May 3, 2006

You Could Look It Up

The Delmon Young Mailbag

by Steven Goldman

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YOU COULD WRITE IT IN: THE YCLIU READER MAILBAG

Monday's installment on Delmon Young and the history of umpire abuse and intimidation garnered quite a few responses and comments. Here we present a sampling, including a couple of additions to the list of examples of physical confrontations between players and umpires.

A COUPLE WE MISSED

Don't forget about Carl Everett's headbutt to Ron Kulpa during the 2000 season. Definitely one of the more bizarre player/umpire confrontations of all-time.
--rockyoursox

It's funny how the mind works. Johnny Allen's stranglehold on George Barr in 1943, which predates my birth by more than 25 years, seems quite vivid to me but the more recent Carl Everett event had completely slipped out of memory. On July 15, 2000, Everett was batting against the Mets when umpire Ronald Kulpa pointed out that Everett was out of the batter's box. Everett disagreed, to put it mildly. Kulpa then drew lines in the dirt with his foot showing Everett where he could legally hit. Everett said something along the lines of, "Lines! Ha! I scoff at your paltry knowledge of geometry! You know I don't subscribe to any of that two-dimensional Euclidian nonsense! Space is curved, man. Parallel lines can meet. That's a basic component of general relativity, you ignorant ruffian!"

This was too much for the umpire, who thumbed Everett from the game. Everett went bonkers. He slammed his helmet on the ground, bumped the umpire, and head-butted him, making contact with the umpire's nose.

After the game, then-Red Sox manager Jimy Williams complained that the Mets had instigated the incident by asking the umpire to check Everett's stance. A subject for another time: What's wrong with that? If just asking for the rules to be observed is going to cause one of your opposition's best players to lose his mind (and Everett was a dangerous hitter that year, batting .300/.373/.587), that is a legitimate strategic option, one which opposing managers should pursue daily until the player either reforms and gives up his unfair advantage, or he's run out of the league.

Everett was suspended 10 days. He still stands on top of the plate, although the results haven't been good for a few years now and managers just might want to keep him in the game rather than have someone dangerous come in. Here's an even more recent incident that vaguely constitutes a precedent:

Steven, while what David Ortiz did in 2004 was clearly and materially different from what Delmon did, I believe it to be untrue that "Throwing a bat at an umpire is a new wrinkle; it has never happened before." He threw his bats in the general vicinity of the umps, and nearly hit them. And I'm not just writing because I'm an annoying Yankees fan before tonight's big game.
--S.

On July 16, 2004, David Ortiz was called out on strikes in the seventh inning of a game Boston was leading 3-2 at Anaheim. Ortiz argued the call and was ejected. This triggered an internal conflict resulting from childhood feelings of inferiority and Ortiz lashed out, pushing manager Terry Francona into umpire Matt Hollowell, then throwing his elbow pad at the umpires (he missed) and then, once back in the dugout, throwing bats onto the field that just missed hitting two other umpires. It was difficult to tell if he intended to hit the umpires or was just being petulant. Baseball chose the latter interpretation and suspended him a whopping five games.

The difference between this incident and the Young assault is that of intent. While you would think baseball would want to make a strong point about throwing bats both at or in the general vicinity of anyone, Ortiz was allowed to argue that the umpires were just bystanders to a tantrum. Young can't plausibly make the same case.

Remember: positive steroids test=50 games. Attempted assault with a deadly weapon=five games.

A DATE WHICH SHALL LIVE IN INFAMY

...and Roger Clemmns threw a bat at Mike Piazza, and didn't even have to leave the game...
--F.B.

Different kind of deal, to be housed under the general heading of player-on-player violence--though it's not clear if Roger Clemens was really trying to hit Mike Piazza. Given that Juan Marichal's 1965 clubbing of Johnny Roseboro merited only a nine-game slap on the wrist, it seems unlikely that baseball would have done much even the case had been clear cut.

Try this example: On June 18, 1940, six days after the Dodgers had acquired slugging outfielder Joe Medwick from the Cardinals, those two teams were to play at Ebbets Field. It happened that Medwick and Dodgers' player-manager Leo Durocher were staying at the same hotel as St. Louis' starting pitcher for that day, Bob Bowman. The three happened to share an elevator. Durocher and Medwick taunted Bowman, who responded by screaming, "I'll take care of you! I'll take care of both of you!"

Medwick batted in the bottom of the first. Bowman's first pitch hit him in the head. Medwick collapsed. As a team the Dodgers charged the field, all heading for Bowman. Some carried bats. Durocher lead the way, shouting, "You said you'd get him!" Dodgers president Larry MacPhail, seeing his best player unconscious in the dirt, ran onto the field and challenged the whole Cardinal team to fight him. It took a police escort to get Bowman out of Ebbets Field.

Medwick had no worse than a severe concussion and was restored to the Dodgers shortly thereafter. He declined as a hitter after that, though the two events were likely not correlated; in truth, he had been sliding since 1937. Nonetheless, MacPhail went to National League president Ford Frick and demanded that Bowman be banned for life. He also took the case to Brooklyn District Attorney Bill O'Dwyer, the man who had brought down organized crime's "Murder, Inc." Now MacPhail wanted the D.A. to go after "Beanball, Inc." The Dodgers were interviewed, statements were taken, but nothing came of the investigation, and as Medwick mended MacPhail was inclined to let the matter drop. Not only was there no indictment, there was no suspension by Commissioner Landis, Frick, Eleanor Roosevelt, Siegel and Schuster or Simon and Kirby. Nothing.

Clemens would have had to spear Piazza like a pineapple for baseball to have done anything substantive.

DEGREES OF DISGUST

I was debating with a friend over the Young event vs. Artest running into the stands. I think crossing borders between fans and players is worse than umpires and players. I understand that you can't mess with people who allow the game to function correctly, but when fans are scared to go to games, there really is no game. I think Delmon should be suspended for about half the season, but if he gets suspended for the full year (the same as Artest), I think it's a bit unfair.
--S.

This distinction may be so fine as to be non-existent, sort of like saying, "Is it worse to shoot the big toe off of a grown man or a boy?" Both are acts that a sport cannot tolerate. Only the reasons why are substantively different, and as we have seen, in the past umpire abuse often led to violent fan behavior, so in the final analysis both the Young and Ron Artest incidents may be about the same thing. I don't think there's any chance that Young is suspended for the year or even half the season. Going by precedent, even a month might be a bit long. However, a year wouldn't be draconian; you can't have players treating their bats as weapons, and that point needs to be made in glorious Technicolor and stereophonic sound.

NEXT TIME: The Designated Runner, as Written by John Cheever and Portrayed by Burt Lancaster.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  Carl Everett,  The Who,  Managers Of The Year

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