Not for the first time, Walker Buehler got a standing ovation from Dodgers fans as his start ended last night. The 26-year-old hurler returned to the dugout during the top of the seventh following a seven-strikeout, zero earned runs outing that would go on to get him the win, and as he started to make his walk, thousands of Dodger fans got up and cheered.
This moment of gratitude and appreciation, however, was interrupted by the craze that’s sweeping the nation: umpire gunk inspections, which held Buehler up on the third base line and quickly changed the soundscape of Dodger Stadium. The cheers turned to boos, with fans outraged by the insinuation that their boy could have done anything illegal. But after Buehler was released from custody, the goodwill returned almost instantly.
The whole dramatic moment was weird enough that Buehler mentioned it in the postgame, sounding mildly annoyed at the intrusion but mostly laughing it off. “[Standing ovations] are maybe the coolest thing in our game, for me at least as a starting pitcher,” Buehler said. “Talking to the two umpires while it’s happening is a little bit different, but we enjoy it nonetheless.”
I don’t know when and where everyone agreed that gunk checks should be booed when they’re done on the home team, but they’ve rained down almost on cue since the inspections became a thing a little over a week ago. At the Mets game I went to on Saturday, the displeasure was loud and widespread whenever the umps confirmed that Jacob deGrom was not a cheater, and crowds at every game seem to have had the same idea.
There’s no real logic to this, nor does there have to be. The umps are doing their jobs and, by all appearances, have been treating every pitcher fairly. At least for the time being, these checks are just going to be part of the game, and they might even at some point feel as normal as the home-plate ump walking to the pitcher’s mound to break up a strategy session. Rude crowds don’t change that one bit. But I’ve decided that I really enjoy the fact that we’re still trying.
Go to any game where a visiting pitcher tries to pick off the guy at first—or even just steps off the mound—and you’ll hear boos then, too. Again, not a lot of rationality. I think everyone in the stands realizes that the pitcher is within his rights and possibly even smart to do what he’s doing, and even though there might be some real irritation at perceived time-wasting, of all the moments at a ballpark, these are pretty innocuous ones to always get mad about.
It is, I think, the most basic aspect of being a fan. Whether you feel a runner on first is being pestered too often, or that your batter is getting unfairly psyched out, or that your pitcher is unnecessarily receiving the third degree from the fuzz, the booing sends one unambiguous message to the good guys: We’re on your side. We’ve got your back.
So, yes, it’s probably not fun for the umps that they now have yet another duty that’ll rile up the bleacher creatures, and maybe that’ll lead to a more efficient plan for dealing with the sticky situation. But for now, this is what baseball is, and in any form it’s a lot more fun to unreservedly root for your team, boo your opponents, and jeer The Man. So I’m going to keep doing that.