Monday, December 17, 2018

Teachable - Handling a Big Moment Ejection

In this Retro Teachable, we hearken and glance back to a rare playoff ejection involving a pitcher and a star one at that. At the time this umpire-pitcher interaction was one of the most controversial moments in sports. Lip readers were breaking down what Roger Clemens said to American League Umpire Terry Cooney to warrant an ejection. To our younger audience this may be new, but to anyone over the age of 40 this should be a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Clemens confronts Cooney.
If you have time, I suggest rewinding and watching the video from the very beginning. First off, if listening to the old CBS baseball theme doesn't bring you chills, I don't know what will. Next, it provides some much needed context leading up to our situation. Anywho, you can fast forward to the 7:33-mark for the main event.

Right before the ejection, and Jim Grey's interesting story on Mike Gallego's glove (remember when sideline/field reports weren't forced into our games), Willie Randolph walks on a pitch Clemens thinks is a strike. When Gallego enters the box, he's looking out towards the mound, sees something, and backs out. Why would he do that? Hold that thought!

A couple seconds later Cooney ejects Clemens in what at the time appeared an EJ that came out of nowhere. As we continue to watch, CBS shows an angle focused on Clemens and I'm not a professional lip reader, but it certainly appears there was a 'F******* Sucks' in there. Interestingly, why did Clemens stay on the mound as if he was going to continue to pitch? It's pretty clear that Cooney gave him a rather large heave ho, a relative rarity for Cooney, who once went nearly three years and 300+ games without an ejection, from August 1986 to May 1989 (Cooney also tossed Marty Barrett, who threw a bucket and other debris onto the playing field during the incident).

Clemens talks to LF Umpire John Hirschbeck.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't get to say anything you want to an umpire in a playoff game.  It's pretty obvious that Clemens, pitching on three-days' rest and getting hit around, doesn't want to be out there. When interviewed afteward, Clemens didn't say that he didn't deserve to be tossed. Instead, he said in a Sports Illustrated article, "I was verbal during the Series, very verbal. Even before that game, I got caught on the bench on TV a couple of times being verbal."

In fact, Clemens was so verbal that the Commissioner's Office led at the time by Fay Vincent hired a lip reader, concluding that Clemens deserved a five-game suspension for bumping an umpire following the ejection and for threatening Cooney; however, MLB determined that the umpires weren't truthful in describing the incident. Clemens was definitely disputing the strike zone, but MLB's lip reader determined that he didn't say anything personal, despite two umpires reporting that Clemens told Cooney, "I'm going to find out where you live. I'm going to get you."

Whether Cooney and crew were guilty of being inaccurate in the report, we'll never know because it wasn't made public, but in your games, you best be accurate. Don't lie. Remember, head coaches and managers and players like nothing more than to call an umpire wrong. If you're in a situation it is hard to get everything 100% perfect, but don't add things that you know didn't happen. Have integrity. Plus, these days, they can go to the 4K HD video and pick everything apart.

But all that is just a sidebar to the real issue here: the player. We've talked about handling pitchers on the mound in a previous teachable and I stand by what I said there (and if you haven't yet, you might want to read that teachable, too). At all costs get your catcher to go out to the mound and save the pitcher. I get it—we are under mound visit restrictions now, but nobody wants to launch the starting pitcher in the 2nd inning, let alone in a playoff game.
Related PostTmac - Situation Handling and Pitcher Disagreement (7/31/17).

Cooney points toward Clemens.
While this EJ was proper, could it have been prevented? If Gallego could see Clemens was unraveling and had time to step out of the box, how did veteran catcher Tony Pena not see it? I understand the dugouts are a mile away in Oakland, but nobody on the coaching staff recognized The Rocket was in outer space? Keeping players in games is often a team effort, and without the help of the adults in the room, an umpire is often left with no recourse, even in a game of this magnitude.

How often have we seen an umpire step out in front of home plate to issue such an ultimatum warning as Kaat suggests Cooney should have done, and then be accused of being the aggressor? An umpire shouldn't march to the mound by any means, but if removing the mask and taking so much as one step toward the pitcher in order to warn is seen as an antagonistic act, how do you think a subsequent ejection will be viewed (answer: "the umpire had it out for me and the video will show it")?

Cuzzi warns Vogelsong before tossing him.
For instance, Phil Cuzzi took his mask off, put up a stop sign, and didn't even step toward the mound before ejecting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (and skipper Bruce Bochy) in 2015...yet the broadcaster's analysis was, "Phil's having a bad night...If Phil Cuzzi turns around and says to Boch, 'I missed that pitch,' there's no argument." Naturally, QOC for these ejections was Correct, but let's not allow facts to get in the way of an ex-player's grievance. Earlier, we spoke to an umpire needing help from the coaching staff, but here it looks like Bochy is hurting Vogelsong, which makes it absolutely impossible for Phil to keep either man in the game. This is a case of a manager actively helping his pitcher to get ejected.

On the plus side, we did get a, "that's an inexperienced catcher right there."
Related PostMLB Ejections 116-117: Phil Cuzzi (3-4; Vogelsong, Bochy) (7/5/15).

Succinctly, when an umpire is hung out to dry, some things simply don't get the intermediate step of an informal "stop sign" style warning.

Don Denkinger analyzed the ejection.
SIDEBAR: If you watch the extended version, you're in for a special treat around the 13-minute mark. Don Denkinger, who was an American League umpire at the time, provides his insight as a studio analyst.

We've talked many times about non-officials' general lack of rules knowledge, whether it is the managers (6.6 out of 10), players (5.5), media (4.4), fans (3.7), or Aaron Boone (1.0 out of 10...on a 10-question true/false quiz). Bob Davidson has told us many times not to listen to the broadcasters because they just don't get it.

I'm pretty sure many of us who frequent this website would be able to provide better insight as to officiating and the rules of baseball than most of the current broadcasting crop that has zero umpiring experience. How refreshing it is to see Denkinger in the studio ready to provide an umpire's wisdom in real-time to a national television audience.
Related PostESPN Baseball Quiz: Media Scores Low, Players Run Gamut (6/18/13).

Katt wanted Cooney to go "above the rule."
After Denkinger's explanation, Jim Kaat opts to speak "over and above the rule," saying that he believes common sense should have prevailed. Which, given Kaat's introductory statement of going "over and above the rule," logically means that, in Kaat's opinion, Cooney should have treated Clemens as if he were "above the rule."

It should go without saying that an umpire is prohibited from going outside of (or "above") the rules to administer a baseball game.

We also see Clemens refusing to leave the dugout such that Jim Evans ultimately has to prod Boston to get him to leave.

Finally, if you've read to here, you deserve an inside scoop! Wednesday we'll announce our next guest on The Plate Meeting and we think you're going to love who we have in store. That means we'll be calling for your questions. So come back later this week for the big news!

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Clemens is tossed arguing balls and strikes in midst of elimination playoff game (CBS)


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