If Don Mattingly and Matt Kemp are right, Angel Campos needs to face baseball government and explain why he threw Kemp out of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the heinous offence of rooting for a teammate.
If they are wrong, however, and Campos’s real motivation was Kemp and other Dodgers barking about Campos’s balls and strikes, then Campos needs to explain why he waited until Kemp hollered, “Let’s go, ‘Dre!” to teammate Andre Ethier, in the batter’s box leading off the second inning, before he tossed Kemp.
Facing A.J. Burnett—whose comeback story is one of the reasons the Pirates are chugging away in an honest-to-God pennant race, and in whose starts the Pirates are 18-4 this season, including Thursday night’s 10-6 win over the Dodgers, tying a single-season percentage mark (82 percent) set in 1902 (behind Jack Chesbro)—Ethier stepped out of the box a moment and the scrum was on in earnest.
You could hear a little yapping coming from the Dodger dugout before Ethier stepped out of the box. Kemp, who’d struck out in the first, was clearly unhappy with Campos’s strike zone. Campos would have been well enough within his rights as an umpire to toss someone if it was just barking about ball and strike calls. All he had to do was give one of the Dodger barkers the ho-heave during the ball and strike barks, and that would have been that.
As it happens, Campos did issue a kind of warning to the Dodger dugout over the ball-and-strike barking. Something along the line of, “I don’t want to hear another word out of you.”
“Then I said, ‘Let’s go ‘Dre’,” Kemp told reporters, apparently indicating he’d begun rooting for Ethier after the unofficial knock-it-off about the pitch calls, “and he tossed me out of the game. You’ve got two teams going at it in a pennant race. We’re trying to build the lead against the Giants and Arizona, and I get thrown out for cheering my teammate.”
Throwing a player out for rooting for his teammate? No wonder Mattingly scurried out of the dugout to face Campos down. In part from the instinct to protect his player further, in part because he probably had every right on earth to demand an explanation as to why, suddenly, rooting from the bench is supposed to cost a player.
Kemp, for his part, blasted out of the dugout after getting the thumb. No problem there. Players and managers have been known from time immemorial to look to have their say, once and for all, after their ejections. Except that Kemp needed, at various times, bench coach Trey Hillman, teammate Shane Victorino, and one or two other umps to keep him from possibly trying to knock Campos into the middle of September.
At one point, Kemp bumped into one of the umps, probably unintentionally. It got rather crowded around the plate, where the debate transpired, particularly when crew chief Tim Tschida decided Mattingly needed the rest of the night off for bad behaviour himself. He also needed Hillman’s help to get Mattingly off the field at last.
“This isn’t about being mad,” said Mattingly to reporters after the game, which cost the Dodgers a series sweep against the Pirates. “This is something that has to go above me. It needs to go to the league. We’re in a pennant race, and I’ve got a guy who was second in the MVP last year, and you can’t take him out of the game for cheering for a teammate. If we had gone out of control, that’s different. This is just unacceptable behavior [by Campos].”
It wouldn’t be the end of the Dodgers’ troubles with the plate ump. When Pedro Alvarez hit one over the center field fence in the fifth, moments after Garrett Jones hit one of his two three-run bombs on the night, Los Angeles starter Joe Blanton ran toward Campos before leaving the field when he was lifted for a reliever.
Campos isn’t exactly immune to controversy. Last year, during an interleague game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals, Campos tossed Royals catcher Matt Treanor (who happens to be with the Dodgers this year) while they were exchanging words . . . at a moment when Treanor wasn’t even facing Campos as he talked. Let’s see. Tossing one man when he isn’t even looking at you; tossing another man when he’s rooting from the dugout. Campos seems to have a thing for long-distance purging.
We’re going to hear and see it if Kemp gets himself a fine and/or a suspension, which is just about the last thing the Dodgers need while battling for the National League West. Bank on it. What we may not hear or see is whether Campos is disciplined as a possible instigator, and by what means.
Which is part of the problem many have with umpiring today. For the most part, the arbiters do well. But when they do wrong, when they cross the line between mere command of a game and baseball’s equivalent of judicial tyranny, which is, unfortunately, often enough, the consequences they face are disclosed rarely enough.