Mud, Coaches, and Ejections

I’ve had a very busy couple of weeks at work (plus four to six games a week), so I’ve been somewhat neglectful of the UBBlog. That’s a shame because a lot has happened, but I’m back. There has also been a fair amount of rain over the past few weeks, so there’s also a fair amount of mud. This is the Pacific Northwest, after all. Rainouts are a way of life.

But we got some good games in, too. Last weekend I worked a  double-header where my partner and I ended up ejecting two assistant coaches – both from the same team, one in each game. That’s a first.

But first let’s talk about the rain. Teams from California sometimes come up to the Pacific Northwest to play in tournaments, and, if there is some rain, they’re always a bit shocked that we don’t quickly suspend the game, and at the wet conditions in which we play. Around here, playing in wet conditions is the norm. We wouldn’t get any Spring baseball played if we played only in perfectly dry conditions. On turf fields, particularly, we’ll push the limits. On dirt infields, however, the play/no-play boundary is defined by mud.

Mud comes in many forms. There’s that sandy, caked mud, which isn’t too slippery and drains water fairly well; you can play on this mud until the ground saturates and the rain starts to form puddles. At the other end of the spectrum there’s the evil mud. Evil mud starts as a dusty dirt and turns to a slippery pudding, particularly around the bases and on the pitcher’s mound. So when pitchers’ plant foot begins to slip, or when runners start to slip or even fall when rounding first, then it’s time to stop the game. I had this situation last week, although we did manage to push the limits a bit and get in an official game (four and a half with the home team leading). There was a light but steady rain and the parents were all in ponchos and everyone was huddled under umbrellas. The kids were all muddy, the coaches dour, the score was not close, so nobody complained when I called the game.

I hate to say it, but not all baseball coaches are good coaches. The same can be said of umpires, of course, but we’ll save that for another post. But the truth is, some coaches, like some umpires, get into the game for the wrong reasons – reasons, I fear, that revolve around power and control. Or maybe these guys just don’t have an aptitude for social interaction and the boundaries described by the rules of the game. Or maybe they’re just ass holes. Whatever the case, coaches sometimes behave in ways that are inconsistent with what’s generally known as sportsmanship.

So let’s get back to that insane game where my partner and I ejected two coaches from the same team in successive games of a double-header.

For starters, let’s remember that, by rule, only the team manager can legally leave the dugout to confer with umpires. Assistant coaches, as well as players who are not currently on the field, at bat, or on deck, are not allowed to be out of the dugout. The only exception for coaches is when they are acting as base coaches. That notwithstanding, assistant coaches and players are not allowed to engage with umpires. That’s the manager’s (and only the manager’s) job.

So I have a play at the plate and the catcher is set up in a partially blocking position while he calls for the ball as the runner approaches home. There’s grounds for obstruction, but the runner scores standing up (he zigs around the catcher then zags to touch home), so I ignore the obstruction. However, because of the catcher’s position, there is light, incidental contact as the runner zig-zags around the catcher to touch home.

Well, that just set things off. The manager of the team on offense, along with one of his assistants, are advancing down the third base line toward me hollering “you’ve got to eject him!” (referring to the runner); “He didn’t slide; he stiff-armed my catcher.” Over and over as they approach me at the plate.

I should have stopped everything right there and sent the assistant back to his dugout, but I gave them a bit of a leash. There’s no such thing as a “must slide” rule, I tell them (this is a common rules myth); furthermore, there was incidental, not “malicious” contact, so I have nothing. And your catcher was blocking the plate anyway, I finish with. We’re done here.

But I do them the courtesy of conferring with my partner (I’m an accommodating guy – sometimes too much so), and my partner confirms my view that there was nothing malicious in the contact. I return to the plate.

“We’re done here,” I tell them again. But they’re slow to relent (particularly the assistant coach) and they start disparaging me: “Learn the rules” and trash like that, so at that point I eject the assistant coach. So he gets belligerent and says he’s not going anywhere.

Well, that’s a pretty easy problem to solve. I clear the field, check the time, and tell the manager that he’s got five minutes to get his coach to the parking lot or I forfeit the game. I cite Rule 7.03(a)(6), which is a bit of a stretch since the rule applies to players, not coaches, but he doesn’t know this and I’m comfortable with the stretch. Of course, the manager complies and we get on with the game.

The second ejection was not dissimilar. We’re in the back half of the double-header, now, and I’m on the bases this game, and this time it was about a balk call.

It’s a complicated scenario that I won’t go into (it’s not relevant) except that it revolved around the simple question of whether the pitcher disengaged from the pitching rubber before attempting a play on a runner stealing second. I saw him disengage, so no balk call. My partner also saw him disengage, so we’re in accord. However (you know what’s coming) another of the team’s assistant coaches starts bellowing “That’s a balk! You gotta call that!” On and on until my partner forced the assistant back into the dugout. But, as before, the coach had a parting shot, and at that point my partner tossed him, too.

That’s unusual. I’ve ejected fewer than a handful of players and coaches in my many years in the game and to have two from the same team in successive games is … well, it’s just plain funny.

 

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