Rules, am I right? The worst! You strive and strive, and just when it seems luck has turned your way and your efforts have finally paid off, some jerk in a chest protector comes along and tells you there’s a bullcrap rule that says the other guy won. Infuriating!
This was the frustration experienced by Cleveland Guardians catcher Austin Hedges Tuesday night when he vented extravagantly in the postgame locker room, about a ruling by umpires who’d determined that his poor positioning meant the dreaded Tigers would be gifted a run that otherwise would not have scored. For Hedges, this determination, made by unaccountable umpires in consultation with even less accountable replay officials, has larger, perhaps even global, implications. “We talk about equality in this world right now,” said a dead-serious Hedges, without even a trace of irony or sarcasm. “There ain’t no equality with that.” This rant has it all: A decent and reasonable complaint about the distribution of accountability, pegged to a play where umpires consulted rules officials and went by the book, dressed up lavishly with The Big Ethical Quagmire Of Our Time, delivered in the manner of a guy who gets out over his skis complaining to the occupants of the break room about someone removing his smelly old half-eaten burrito from the office fridge and throwing it away, without any regard for property rights or due process.
The offending sequence took place in the first inning, with two outs and Javy Baez on second base. Harold Castro smacked a grounder back up the middle, almost directly at Guardians shortstop Tyler Freeman. Before Freeman could get to the ball it ricocheted off the bag and toward the outfield grass; Baez, moving on contact, chugged around third and headed home. Freeman had no time and no angle for a throw to first, so he fired to Hedges, who made a clean catch and seemed to get a tag in just ahead of Baez’s nifty slide for what should’ve been the third out. But as was the case with the recent call that caused Rocco Baldelli’s skull to erupt in a fountain of gore, umpires huddled and consulted the Replay Command Center in New York, where it was determined that the runner had not been given a lane to the plate. Instead of a third out, the play was ruled a run-scoring infield single. In the next at-bat, Kerry Carpenter socked a two-run dinger, adding more injury to injury.
This was not the only umpire huddle that left the Guardians steamed Tuesday night: A conference in the ninth inning ended with umpires determining that what had initially been ruled a foul ball was in fact a third-strike foul-tip, which led to an ejection for Guardians manager Terry Francona. Francona may not have been too clear on the nature of the conversation among the umpires, but he was sure they needed a dressing down one way or another. “I guess what they overturned is that [the catcher] caught the ball,” explained a marginally cooler Francona, after the game. “I didn’t even see—I thought it was foul ball. I needed to yell at him anyway.”
Hedges obviously agrees with his manager. “There’s no accountability on their part, right now, and that’s really really sad,” said Hedges, steam pouring out of his ears and nose. “They say, ‘Here’s a play where I can show my power. Here’s a play where I can take over the game.’ And that’s not the game that we play. That’s not the game that we’ve played forever. And they’re trying to take over the game, and they’re trying to change the game.” This is not even an inaccurate description of a persistent problem with MLB umpiring, and indeed refereeing in just about every organized sport. It’s just fun to have it articulated with the simmering anger, high-wire oratorial imprecision, and exhilaratingly over-the-top rhetoric of a college guy venting to his distracted roommates his resentment at being the only one who ever does the dishes.