When Yankees catcher Russell Martin was ejected by home plate umpire Paul Schrieber in the fifth inning of Monday's Yankees-Rays game, YES broadcaster Michael Kay brought up the issue of "baiting." The conjecture: Umpire Schrieber had baited Martin into getting himself tossed.
On the contrary, it was Schrieber who was baited by Martin into a poor perception ejection.
After walking Rays batters Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist to begin the bottom of the fifth inning at Tropicana Field, Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes was in trouble. Sensing Hughes' instability or perhaps sent by Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, Martin ventured out to the mound to talk to his pitcher.
When Martin came back to home plate, however, he turned his attention to Schrieber. While walking the final steps towards the catcher's box, Martin was seen talking to and facing Schrieber, calmly at first, and then slightly more animated.
Martin appeared to then get his last words in—words Martin claims were a joke, words that were truly umpire bait—before turning around and dropping into a crouch. While Schrieber tried to continue the conversation, Martin stopped listening and figuratively walked away from a still-talking Schrieber.
Schrieber, incensed at the disrespect he perceived Martin had shown, walked out to face a crouching Martin and said loudly enough for the field microphones to pick up, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Martin retorted with a sentence unintelligible on the broadcast, and Schrieber gestured for Martin's ejection. Martin shouted, "Are you kidding me?" Schrieber yelled, "No, I'm not kidding you," and Girardi stepped in to separate the pair.
Schrieber had fallen victim to Martin's successful attempt at umpire baiting.
For umpires and officials, much of the job is based on perception. Officials have to sometimes be part magician.
When it comes to players or coaches chirping at an official in most sports, it is easiest to get a particularly damning criticism in when the official is standing directly next to said player or coach.
Why? Presumably because no one else can hear what is said.
For many players and coaches, this means free rein on an umpire or referee as long as the ump or ref is standing close by. For catchers, this means free rein while maintaining their sense of decorum in the form of the crouch behind home plate.
In baseball, a catcher has to crouch to receive almost every pitch (sans intent ball); that's how the entire game works. Therefore, a heave-ho from this routine position is bad for an umpire.
For an umpire, ejecting someone for what is perceived as a routine action will almost always be a poorly perceived ejection.
Ejecting a catcher while he's standing, turned away from his pitcher and towards the umpire; that's going to be a more positively perceived ejection.
Once Schrieber came out from his position to stand on top of home plate, he was committed to the ejection, an ejection that was poorly perceived because, to the casual observer, it looked like Martin hadn’t done anything wrong.
It looked like Schrieber had baited Martin, when in reality, the shoe was on the other foot.
Some umps over at The Umpire Ejection Fantasy League proposed two ways in which Schrieber’s ejection would have been more positively perceived, employing anti-bait techniques to counter a poorly perceived ejection.
In Method A, Schrieber could have ejected Martin while he was still standing and walking back from the pitcher’s mound. The downside, of course, is this method would have painted Schrieber as a short fuse umpire.
In Method B, Schrieber could have fought fire with fire. If Martin wanted to say something inappropriate and proceed to drop into a crouch before Schrieber had a chance to respond, Schrieber could have simply let him.
From here, Schrieber could have continued the conversation, as umpires and catchers do, and ejected Martin just as casually as Martin had criticized Schrieber’s strike zone.
The reasoning behind this is purely psychological.
If the catcher is emotional enough to have stepped over the line to question the umpire’s integrity, ability or consistency, then that same catcher likely is emotional enough to completely lose his sense of decorum upon being quietly told that he’s been ejected.
Once that sense of decorum is lost, the catcher is up, has wheeled around and is facing the umpire while appearing animated, the umpire simply executes a standard ejection mechanic. From the fan's point of view, it looks as if the umpire has ejected the catcher because the catcher has broken decorum to argue.
This ejection will always be more positively perceived than walking out in front of home plate to confront a catcher, and then ejecting the catcher as the stunned fielder still is down in his squat.
Method B depends on the umpire’s ability to remain at his emotional baseline. While the catcher or player to be ejected is at an emotional 10, the umpire must remain calm, cool and collected to execute the anti-bait.
An umpire must retain control of the game at all times. Taking a step back, staying calm and not falling prey to a catcher’s bait are qualities umpires must possess.
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