This story was supposed to be about the triumphant debut of a much-ballyhooed wunderkind, but instead it turned into a narrative about awful calls from a man not unfamiliar with them.
The energy at Wrigley was palpable, even through the radio broadcast, and when Kris Bryant took his turns at bat you could just feel how wound up everyone was. Unfortunately for the Cubs, and those in attendance, he got off to a bit of an inauspicious start at the plate, going 0-4 with 3 strikeouts. Disappointing, yes, but maybe not all that unexpected.
Mandatory reminder to not jump off a ledge if Bryant goes 0-4 w/ 3 K’s in his debut.
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) April 17, 2015
Hey, when you’re only right once every 10 days or so, you’ve got to let people know about it. What was a bit unexpected was Bryant’s defense; he showed excellent instincts and made some nice plays in the field, even starting a double play with his first-ever opportunity.
Still, the plate appearances are what everyone was looking forward too and the young star’s futility was enough to inflame some hemorrhoids in the crowd. It’s unfortunate that some people feel that buying a ticket to a game gives you the inalienable right to be moron, but Kurtis Blow knows that those are the breaks.
Even more concerning than the Ks that were called, however, were those that were not. On two separate occasions, Padre hitters took insanely close two-strike pitches that were called balls by home plate umpire Sam Holbrook. In both cases, the subsequent pitches were driven over the wall for two- and three-run homers.
After the second, Maddon argued with, and was quickly booted by, Holbrook. Thanks to the Cubs’ patchwork TV broadcast deals and the inability to stream games from inside the blackout zone, I was not able to watch live. I did, however, hear from some skilled lip-readers that Uncle Joe chucked a couple F-bombs and questioned the ump’s ability to do his job.
Also removed from the bio was this hilariously sarcastic account, author unknown:
On April 17, 2015, at a game between the Padres and Cubs at Wrigley Field, Holbrook was responsible for all 5 Padres runs, as he twice failed to call strike three on a ball in the strike zone, leading to a homerun on the next pitch. He successfully turned Kris Bryant Day into Sam Holbrook Day, taking over the game as only an umpire can do. The fans booed lustily; apparently they had not bought tickets to see the umpires, but to see the players.
Now, if this guy’s name rings a bell it’s probably because Friday afternoon wasn’t his first brush with some, uh, interesting calls. Let’s check back on that Wiki page again, why don’t we:
On August 29, 1998, in the first inning and first plate appearance of the day for first baseman Mark McGwire, rookie umpire Holbrook ejected both manager Tony La Russa and McGwire for arguing a called third strike. The game was halted for ten minutes and police were summoned as fans at Busch Stadium littered the field with trash and assorted knickknacks. Pitching coach Dave Duncan was also ejected after the Braves finished batting in the second inning.
On July 7, 2012, in the first inning of a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Houston Astros, while umpiring at first base, Holbrook ejected Brewers starter Zack Greinke. Holbrook ruled José Altuve beat Greinke to the bag on a close play, prompting Greinke to throw the ball into the ground in frustration. Greinke was then ejected just four pitches into his start and Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke was also thrown out by Holbrook shortly thereafter.
During the eighth inning of the 2012 National League Wild Card Playoff, Holbrook, acting as the umpire down the left field line, ruled that a popup in mid left field, 225 feet from home plate, hit by Atlanta Brave Andrelton Simmons was an out under the infield fly rule. The ball dropped between St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday just as Holbrook made his call. Without Holbrook’s call, the Braves, down 6–3, would have had the bases loaded with one out. The Braves and the fans in attendance at Turner Field were upset over the call, and the game had to be delayed 19 minutes as fans threw garbage on the field in protest. Atlanta played the rest of the game under protest, which was denied by MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre. Several commentators, including TBS studio analysts Ron Darling and Joe Simpson argued that the location of the fly ball should have prohibited the umpire from citing an infield fly. MLB Network personality Harold Reynolds argued that the call was correct, employing instant replay to explain the call (ital. mine)
While Holbrook’s calls on Friday were not nearly as egregious as that infield fly debacle, many felt they had no less impact on the outcome of the game. I don’t know, maybe the Padres just had a little more of the Wil(l) to win.
It may end up just being a meaningless result, just the 9th of 162 contests in a long season, but I think a lot of us feel as though something was taken from us just the same. This was supposed to be a celebration, a symbolic rebirth of our long-dormant baseball team on the first truly beautiful day of the season.
Instead, we’re talking about close calls and the umpires’ role in the game; this must be what Milt Pappas’s whole life feels like. But hey, we get to hit the reset button and try it all over again tomorrow.