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Angel Hernandez Will Make You Want To Throw A Thing

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts during the fifth inning against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on September 21, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

This won't be the latest in the ongoing series of screeds on Angel Hernandez, the umpire who makes people root for the warmth and cuddliness of robots. He is what he is at this point—the designated lightning rod for anti-authoritarians who wish players were honest enough to call their own balls and strikes—and baseball is frankly all the better for the entertainment value he offers.

It is, though, inspired by Hernandez in that Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies got run from last night's 3-2 loss to the inert Pittsburgh Pirates and got all of his money's worth from the ejection.

Even though the Phillies have already clinched the first wild card berth in the National League postseason ziggurat, and even though the Pirates have long done what the Pirates do, Harper didn't want to be cheated out of a walk he thought he'd earned, went batcrap furious on Hernandez (not an unusual development, truth be told), and then launched his batting helmet into the crowd. By any means a great tantrum, one of those good-for-the-game spasms that will get him fined a dollar for every new admirer he gains.

But here's where Harper truly comprehends his place in the universe. He sent a clubhouse guy to find the new owner of his batting helmet, a 10-year-old named Hayden Dorfman whose father Aaron had caught the flying skullcap, not to take it back but to sign it for the lad as a deed to ownership. It wasn't the most compelling event of the evening in baseball—there's flooding expected along the East Coast as part of its ongoing atonement for forcing us to pay attention to the Mets. But it was the kind of thing that makes Harper less a divo and more a hero of labor—he struck the right chord the right way, as all the best showmen do.

But let's keep in mind that he couldn't have done it without Angel Hernandez, the twisted marketers' dream. All those strangulated hernias with feet who have wanted Hernandez fired over the years don't get his true value, and why the game needs him in ways that can't be truly qualified or quantified. He helps us focus. He helps us understand why we go to the ballpark at all—as a focus of our gift for civil disobedience. He can even make White Sox fans remember how their backed-up septic tank of a season could be worse; by him getting more assignments in Chicago. We need him, now and for years to come, if only to remind us that knowing who the officials are is part of the fun, even if the first thing that comes to mind is telling your kids, "Angel's working the plate tonight. Be ready for a souvenir."

Here's hoping he works forever, if only for the nightly equipment throw that should replace the national anthem and the seventh-inning stretch as traditions that bond parents and children in a pastime that needs more targeted disobedience. Anyone can get a foul ball, but how about a Gatorade bucket? It's an idea that’s time has come, and just needs someone from HR to greenlight the liability issue.

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