Baseball has an umpire problem.
Last Saturday, Manny Machado was ejected for arguing a called third strike by home-plate umpire Bill Welke. Machado, who is not the most level-headed human being, threw a fit and his bat in response.
On Monday, MLB issued a ruling on the incident and suspended the San Diego Padres third baseman for one game.
On Tuesday, the Major League Baseball Umpires Association—the union that represents MLB umpires—lost its mind.
First, there was the tweet, and oh my god, what is going on with those hashtags:
#Disappointed #LeadByExample #NotAppreciated #Violence #TemperTantrum #Inaction #NotTolerated #MakeanExampleof #OneGameSuspension #RepeatOffender #Nonsense #MLBUA @MLB @Padres @Buster_ESPN pic.twitter.com/pkcW5O1SnB— Major League Baseball Umpires Association (@MLBUA) June 18, 2019
About an hour later, the union double downed with an even longer Facebook post:
There is a lot to parse here—from the disturbing demand to make an example of Machado, to the comical, pearl-clutching “think of the children!” appeal at the end—but I think the best place to start is with the most conspicuous assertion: that Machado committed “violence in the workplace.”
To be clear, I don’t care for Machado as a player. I think he’s hot headed, and his on-field tactics would make Ty Cobb smile. Still, this is a huge accusation to levy at anyone, even a player such as Machado.
Let’s review the tape.
Is Machado’s reaction excessive? Certainly. Did he deserve to get ejected? Probably, though it’s worth noting the ejection happened before things got heated. Is it violent? Of course not. That’s not to say it’s defensible, but to suggest the act itself was violent or there was any intention to inflict harm is ridiculous at best. Players constantly toss equipment in frustration. Machado wasn’t even the only player who threw his bat in that same game! In the bottom of the third, Nolan Arenado tossed his bat and helmet after Welke called him out on strikes on a check swing.
So, anyway. This is Manny getting tossed, and then Nolan not getting tossed. ♀️ pic.twitter.com/WAG8yA5onK— kelly (day-to-day) (@kellyawallace) June 16, 2019
Arenado was not ejected.
It’s not even clear if Machado deserves a suspension for his actions. MLB contends that Machado made contact with the umpire, which seems to be supported by Welke pointing down at his arm during the argument. However, the video evidence is inconclusive, and Machado disputes the claim.
If it’s shown that no contact was made, then the argument for a one-game suspension, let alone a more severe punishment, becomes suspiciously thin.
Why suspiciously? Well…
*TRIGGER WARNING FOR THOSE OFFENDED BY LEGITIMATE ALLEGATIONS OF RACISM*
Yep, it’s probably racism.
MLB gets some benefit of a doubt—making contact with an umpire is a big no-no, and rightfully so. The Umpires Association? Not so much.
Let’s take a look at the statement again, because the language is telling. The union repeatedly insinuates Machado is violent and calls him a “#RepeatOffender”; on the other side, it refers to umpires as authority figures, and that “touch[ing] someone of authority”—not hitting, not pushing, but touching—must be “dealt with severely.”
Intentionally or not, the union is employing the language of law enforcement to depict Machado, a person of color, as a dangerous criminal. It’s wildly unprofessional even in the best of circumstances to target a minority player in this way.
[Editor’s note: The law enforcement link goes all the way back to 2017, when the Umpires Association started its own Twitter account to accuse baseball of not protecting umpires, and, eventually, beginning its own white wristband protest.]
Unfortunately for the union and its members, they are not facing the best of circumstances right now. Earlier this season, umpire Ron Kulpa had his own on-field temper tantrum when he bullied the Houston Astros after the bench got riled over repeated missed calls. Kulpa’s misconduct rightfully garnered plenty of criticism, though he will likely go unpunished for his actions. Meanwhile, Angel Hernandez’s lawyers have fittingly flubbed the umpire’s under-the-radar lawsuit against MLB, so much so that Hernandez may have singlehandedly undermined labor-union relations in the United States.
“What kind of precedent is that setting,” indeed.
Don’t get me wrong—I believe unions are absolutely vital for employees to get a fair shake (#SolidarityForVoxMediaUnion). But that doesn’t mean the people running the unions can’t be complete dunderheads.
With the advent of strike-zone technology, it is clear that umpiring as we know it is slowly on the way out. Umpires behaving like boors—on and off the field—will only make calls for the robot revolution grow that much louder.