Being an umpire in Major League Baseball is a thankless job. If you do it well, no one knows who you are. If you don't and are constantly making a spectacle out of yourself, no one will respect anything that you do.
It is an interesting time to be one of the men in blue, as it appears that some of them are taking the approach where they must become part of the story just to see their name in newspapers, on websites, SportsCenter, MLB Network, etc.
Take, for instance, a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon. Bryce Harper, the biggest star on the team and one of the biggest in baseball, checked his swing on a pitch from Wandy Rodriguez.
Home plate umpire Bob Davidson asked for help from third base umpire John Hirschbeck, who has a history with players on teams managed by Davey Johnson.
Hirschbeck called Harper out on strikes. The Nationals outfielder disagreed and voiced his displeasure with Hirschbeck. Hirschbeck didn't waste time in throwing up his arms to let Harper know that he was going to show off the size of his ego.
After a few more seconds of Harper talking and tossing his helmet down, Hirschbeck decided that he wanted to toss the 20-year-old out of the game just to send a message.
And if that sounds like an exaggeration, here is what Hirschbeck told the Washington Post after the game.
I didn’t like that he put his hands up with the bat. That’s kind of what I yelled at him. He continued and threw his bat. I kind of pointed like, ‘That’s equipment.’ And then, he still continued and slammed his helmet down. That’s when I ejected him.
I was actually just being nice. Even the hands up in the air is showing me up, to me. I could have ejected him right then. I was nice enough to leave him in the game...
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post did note that the MLB will be reviewing the video of Harper's ejection.
Adam Kilgore @AdamKilgoreWP
MLB is reviewing John Hirschbeck's ejection of Bryce Harper, including video of when Harper "slammed" his helmet. http://t.co/HrYcnGDenU2013-5-6 18:24:04
It wasn't long before the outrage—both in the stands and on social media sites—exploded in criticism of Hirschbeck.
Kristopher Watson made a sarcastic comment about what the 24,000-plus fans in the stands paid good money to see.
Kristopher Watson @KrisWatson22
Just brought my family down to the game paid $200 for tickets, food, and parking just to watch John Hirschbeck ump a game said no one ever.2013-5-6 19:45:12
Mick Gillispie wondered what a demotion would do to help Hirschbeck figure out what he is doing.
Mick Gillispie @BroadcasterMick
John Hirschbeck may need to repeat MiLB. People aren't paying to watch an umpire. There are 5 or 6 umps in the SL who get that call right.2013-5-6 19:17:20
Dan Kolko of MASN Sports noted, as did I, the history between Hirschbeck and teams that Davey Johnson manages.
Dan Kolko @masnKolko
John Hirschbeck has history w/ a couple #Nats: he's the ump Alomar spit on in '96. Davey managed that O's team, 1B coach Tarasco was an OF2013-5-5 18:40:03
Keith Law of ESPN, who has never been shy about criticizing umpires when it is warranted, made his thoughts known.
So, yeah, this Bryce Harper thing was a total #umpshow. Hirshbeck should be suspended for it, but won't, of course. http://t.co/uy3GsGOYFe2013-5-6 03:30:22
Whether Harper struck out or not isn't the point—it was called strike three and that's that. But when the umpire has to make a point of both throwing his hands up to jaw back at the player and then say that he ejected Harper for showing him up is where this gets ridiculous.
To make matters worse, Hirschbeck's display of egotism comes on the heels of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price and his spat with Tom Hallion in Chicago just more than a week ago.
Some umpires—it is unfair to say all of them because there are good ones who call the game the right way with no agenda—have made it their mission to become stars when no one wants to see them.
In fairness, we live in a time where making yourself look like the dumbest possible human being on earth can get you a multimillion-dollar reality television series contract. Umpires aren't exactly on that level, but a few are clearly putting themselves out there for an ego stroke.
And because the MLB wants to protect its umpires at all costs—yes, Hallion was fined for the incident with the Rays, but so was Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson—nothing notable will, in all likelihood, come of this review.
Hirschbeck is going to continue to throw his arms up and jaw with players when he sees fit, while players, fans and analysts are going to wonder when one of these calls is going to decide a postseason or World Series game.
Even for a job that is thankless, umpires should try to remain as anonymous as possible.
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