There is no justice in Mudville, often as not. On the one hand, Matt Kemp seems not to have been suspended over Thursday’s comedy in Pittsburgh. On the other hand, his manager, Don Mattingly, has been, for two games, in hand with an undisclosed fine. Baseball government got it half right. Nobody should have been suspended except, perhaps, Thursday’s plate umpire Angel Campos.
Officially, Donnie Baseball got his two-game siddown-and-shaddap for—get this—“excessive arguing.” Joe Garagiola, Jr., who serves as baseball government’s vice president for standards and on-field operations, announced it Saturday; the game’s top cop, Joe Torre, who just so happens to be Mattingly’s managerial mentor and former Yankee boss, met Mattingly Friday to prepare him for, apparently, the worst.
What Torre and Garagiola should have been doing and announcing was not a punishment upon Mattingly but a little discipline upon the home plate umpire with whom Mattingly got into it, after Campos, instigated the entire thing by tossing Dodger star Matt Kemp out of the game for no crime more heinous than . . . rooting for his teammate.
Yes, the Dodgers spent the early moments of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates barking over Campos’s actual or alleged strike zone. Yes, Campos by the top of the second was compelled to holler toward the Dodger dugout something along the line of, “I don’t want to hear another word out of you.” Presumably, Campos was referring to the balls-and-strikes barking. Not even Torre and Garagiola have yet to suggest Campos’s warning was anything other than informal, in its fashion.
At least Kemp presumed as much. For the next three words hollered from the Dodger dugout through any Dodger mouth, as Andre Ethier stepped out of the batter’s box while squaring off against Pirate starter A.J. Burnett, were Kemp’s. “Let’s go, Dre!” Upon hearing those encouraging words, Campos tossed Kemp from the game.
As you might have expected, and as happens often enough, Kemp zipped out of the dugout once he got his thumb and decided he could now afford to let Campos have a piece of his mind, not to mention his mouth, which got, shall we say, colourful enough at one point to prompt a father sitting within earshot in the seats to put his hands around his young son’s ears.
Mattingly followed Kemp out of the dugout post haste when Kemp shot toward Campos. The manager bid to protect his player, obviously, letting Campos know he wasn’t all too thrilled about losing perhaps his best player in a key game for rooting his mate on. It must have been tempting for more than a few Dodgers, and perhaps no few Pirates, to let their minds wander to when a particularly aggrieved umpire might start ejecting rooting fans from the ballpark, because they’d previously been booing borderline pitches one or the other way.
“Campos,” the Los Angeles Times notes, “is a summer fill-in umpire with a less than glowing reputation. And he did himself and the game no favors by looking into the visitors’ dugout, some would argue, almost baiting the Dodgers.”
If the Pirates were self-restrained from rooting each other on as Thursday progressed, and they worked toward a 10-6 win, you could hardly blame them. “No, no, man! Don’t root, he’ll run you!”
As Mattingly and Kemp buttonholed Campos, the crowd around the plate became such that Kemp brushed inadvertently against another ump. It finally required two umps (crew chief Tim Tschida, and Jeff Nelson) to hold Mattingly while he emptied his opprobrium upon Campos, who threw him out of the game soon enough. Kemp, for his part, needed bench coach Trey Hillman—who’ll manage the Dodgers for Mattingly’s two missing games—and a few teammates, Shane Victorino in particular, to get Kemp away from the plate region and back out of sight.
Torre reportedly told Mattingly he should have focused first on getting Kemp away from the plate area and then taking up the debate, if he felt he must. That isn’t a terrible suggestion, of course. But what would Torre suggest a team really ought to do about an ump who may have baited them even before he decided one Dodger rooting for another in the batter’s box was equal to politically incorrect speech?
Campos isn’t exactly unknown for having the proverbial itchy trigger finger. On 6 May, calling balls and strikes between the Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians, Campos looked for all the world as though he were ready to run Rangers starter Yu Darvish because he thought Darvish was challenging him on pitch locations. It turned out Darvish was asking about them—but he was asking his catcher, Yorvit Torrealba.
The ump also has a reputation for strike zone inconsistency if not arbitratiness. Hark to this, from Mr. Andy Goldblatt, in Major League Umpires’ Performance, 2007-2010:
[Campos’s] totals from 2007 through 2009 showed that he had one of the biggest strike zones in the major leagues . . . yet his R/9 was 10.08, six percent higher than average . . . Even though 2010 evened things out somewhat, Campos’s four-year R/9 is more than seven percent higher than the major league average, ranking him the fourth-most run-friendly umpire . . .
His reputation seems to be such that a blogger following (and rooting for) the Los Angeles Angels couldn’t resist noting, in indignation, in an April game between the Angels and the Baltimore Orioles, Campos running Baltimore manager Buck Showalter (in April) over Showalter’s protest against his actual or alleged strike zone . . . in a game in which Campos allegedly blew calls both ways while the Orioles won in extra innings.
Maybe I’m missing the moral here. Maybe there’s a little-known baseball rule somewhere—in the so-called unwritten rules, perhaps?—that, if you’ve just been told to shut your pie-holes after barking over an inconsistent ump’s actual or alleged strike zone, you’ve lost your rights to root-root-root for your teammates.