It wasn’t a terrible call, certainly not when compared to some of the others in Country Joe West’s protracted career as an arbiter of baseball’s rules. But his called third strike against Javy Baez in the 1st inning of Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Phillies almost resulted in the NL MVP candidate being run before he even got the chance to take his position.
And though it was largely forgotten in light of Javy’s subsequent solo blast, the only virile moment in the Cubs’ impotent offensive display, the heated exchange provided ammunition for the latest salvo in the interminable players vs. umps battle. While it’s his comments certainly were not unsolicited, the fiery middle infielder had some harsh words for West and his compatriots.
“There’s nothing wrong with asking or talking to umpires,” Baez told The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma after the game. “They need to start talking to us like humans, because they’re not. If anybody doesn’t talk to me with respect, I won’t talk to them with respect either.”
If I were to play devil’s advocate here, I might posit that umpires could respond in kind. Which is to say if players want to be treated like humans, perhaps they shouldn’t advocate for robots behind the plate. But that’s really just turning a phrase in an attempt at acerbic humor; umpires don’t need to be making things about themselves or getting feisty so early in a game.
There’s nothing wrong with establishing ground rules and making sure players don’t just walk all over you, but West comes into games with a bigger chip on his shoulder than Fixer Upper. It’d be foolish to think there’s not a little bias cutting the other way, too, as fans and players alike are all too well aware of West’s tendencies, not to mention those of Angel Hernandez, CB Bucknor, and others. Sometimes you just want to poke the bear a little bit, even when you know better.
Truth be told, I was legitimately surprised when West didn’t sent Javy to the showers, especially after words were still being had from 30 feet away. But just because things simmered down and didn’t boil over even later in the game doesn’t mean this conversation is over.
As we saw earlier in the season with Ben Zobrist calling for an electronic zone, players are ever more willing to call out the inherent faults of the umpirical establishment. I’m not talking about a bad call here and there, we’ve always had that. This is a matter of calling into question the fundamental nature and necessity, or lack thereof, of the men behind the plate.
It’s also a matter of the umps not being able to get out of their own way. While those guys absolutely have the right to be treated with due respect, they’ve also got to realize that calling attention to themselves and their own foibles is the last thing they should be doing amid the growing clamor for changes to the way the game is adjudicated.
Baseball is quite literally a pitched battle, and that’s exactly what the umps are going to be in if they continue to set themselves up as players’ opponents. Because it’s pretty obvious who is driving billions of dollars in revenue here, and it’s not game’s officials.