I want to start by saying that one of the greatest unpatented inventions ever is midweek day baseball. There’s something almost decadent about it, really, as though its very existence dares you to choose your passion over your job. If the passion wins out and you call in sick to go the game, chances are you’ll get away with it in a big league city. Minor league midweek day baseball, though, is not for the risk averse. In a smaller town, the chances of you running into somebody at the game you know–or, worse, who knows your boss–are much higher.
In any event, I was at the Wednesday matinee between the Rangers Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma RedHawks and the Round Rock Express. I saw something in that game I didn’t think I would see in the post-A.J. Pierzynski universe. There were two outs with a runner on second in the bottom of the sixth and the score was tied 0-0. With two strikes, Luke Scott tried and failed to check his swing at a ball that bounced in the dirt. The home plate umpire signaled strike and the catcher, Jamie Burke, tossed him the ball, which he caught. The RedHawks trotted off the field while Scott sprinted to first base. Jesse Garcia, the runner on second, came around third and touched the plate as the Oklahoma players filed past him on their way to the dugout. At least I’m pretty sure he did. Things were pretty confusing at that moment.
The Express made no move to take the field. Instead, manager Jackie Moore came out and began a discussion with the home plate umpire. The other two umps joined in. Soon enough, the fans began to take notice, in spite of the fact that the stupid freaking Dizzy Bat Race was proceeding on the first base line. Do you know how many times a Dizzy Bat Race is amusing? Once. Maybe twice if nobody throws up the first time you saw it. Six years of Dizzy Bat Races at the Dell Diamond has me about ready to take a bat, dizzy or otherwise, to somebody’s skull to get them to stop doing it.
Moore must have done a good job pitching his case because the umpires signaled for the RedHawks to retake the field. They did not. Instead, their manager, former big league infielder Tim Ireland, came out with guns blazing. He got tossed almost immediately but stuck around to get his money’s worth. He approached each umpire in turn and gave them each a faceful of vitriol. He had the home plate umpire backing up. I remember Ireland as a kind of skinny guy. He’s very much the beefy manager type now and he seemed to be getting the better of the argument. We were close enough to have heard every wonderful word of dissension. The trouble is, music was blaring at about 110 decibels. By the sixth, my throat was already sore just from trying to talk to the people sitting next to me. Hearing an argument 40 feet away–even one clearly being shouted–was not a possibility. Look, if I want to make my ears bleed, I’ll lock myself in my car, dial the stereo up to 11 and listen to a mix tape of industrial accidents. How about a moratorium on stadium noise pollution? Can I get a witness? Can I get 10 million witnesses?
Ireland tried to kick up the dirt but the baselines were just too compacted. It was a great fit, though, and I applauded his performance as he walked to the clubhouse in the left field corner. For a few moments, a run appeared on the scoreboard for Round Rock, but eventually it went away and play resumed with runners on first and third and two out. The inning ended on the next batter. (The Express eventually won in the ninth on a walk-off homer by Royce Huffman.)
Of course, we at the ballpark had little clue as to what was going on. I would have wanted to know why the runner was sent back to third, for instance. This is a common problem for attendees who find themselves at games where complicated situations arise: there is no provision made for informing those on hand just what the hell is going on. My favorite example of this came during the famous Pine Tar Game in 1983. The people I’ve talked to who were at that game said that after Billy Martin came out to argue and George Brett went all nuthouse, they were just kind of left sitting there. Finally, they figured out the game was over and went home. Let’s add this to the list of grievances I’m going to nail on baseball’s door today. In the future, can we please put some sort of message on the scoreboard explaining the ruling on the field when something out of the ordinary has taken place? Sure, it’s fun to read about it later, but it’s even nicer to be in the know at the moment. Getting the straight dope should be a part of the price of admission.
Was Ireland’s tirade justified? Yes, he had a right to be superheated. When Burke tossed the ump the ball, the man in blue should have crossed his arms and let it fall. By accepting it, he was implying the inning was over. I’m reminded of the scene in Prizzi’s Honor where they try to distract the body guard by tossing a baby at him, thinking he’ll catch it and let down his guard. He doesn’t. When asked what kind of person wouldn’t catch a baby, Charley Partagna says, “He wasn’t paid to bodyguard the baby.” So he didn’t catch the baby because he knew his job.
True, Burke should have known enough to slap a tag on Scott or throw down to first. I’m going to assume he already knew that’s what needed to be done before last year’s playoffs–after all, he’s been playing professionally since 1993. Another thing is that he was a member of the White Sox organization last year, so can we assume he might have been watching the American League Championship Series? He certainly had to have heard about it.
RedHawks radio man Jim Byers points this out as an aside during a pretty nice rant on the umpires after their malfeasance in the sixth. It’s an on-air tirade that deserves to make the audiofile rounds. I’m not saying it’s going to become an audio classic like the Lee Elia rant or The Troggs infamous “fairy dust” recording session tapes, but it’s great to hear a micman take off the governor and let fly. You can hear it for yourself. Simply go the listings for May 3, select the Round Rock-Oklahoma game and fast forward to one hour and 47 minutes. Byers’ incredulity is wonderful.
So, to recap:
Midweek day baseball: sublime
The umpiring: ridiculous
Third strikes in the dirt: err on the side of caution, throw to first
Nonstop stadium cacophony: end it now
Keeping patrons in dark about on-field doings: ditto
Jim Byers’ replacement ump rant: dig it