Monday, August 12, 2019

Playing in Public - Cuzzi Keeps Cool

Perhaps reminded of Joe West's three-game suspension for comments about Adrian Beltre in 2017, MLB umpire Phil Cuzzi gave officials of all stripes an example of how to behave off the field when a Chicago reporter asked him about trash-talking players.

While visiting the courtroom of baseball fan and federal Judge Thomas Michael Durkin of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ahead of the Astros-White Sox series—to reiterate, Cuzzi was just visiting!—Cuzzi answered a few general questions (e.g., how long he's been in the big leagues [21 years]) before the Judge Durkin ordered the court reporter off the record and asked, "which player talks the most trash to umpires?"

If the backstory sounds familiar, it's because MLB suspended Joe West for answering "Adrian Beltre" to USA Today Sports correspondent Bob Nightengale's similar question (who is the biggest whiner?) in 2017 on the occasion of West's 5,000th major league game.
Related PostSource - Joe West Suspended 3 Games for Beltre Comment (8/8/17).

Perhaps the Cowboy taught umpires a lesson.
Though West and Beltre contended the banter was a joke, MLB didn't buy the argument and suspended West for an "appearance of lack of impartiality" by an umpire.

Cuzzi's Calm: So when Judge Durkin asked Cuzzi to dish on MLB's #1 trash-talking player, the quick-thinking judge spied a reporter in the courtroom ("you're not a reporter, are you?" Yes!) and suggested that he and Cuzzi take their off-the-record conversation to a more private location—the judge's chambers.

One-on-one conversations in a private setting are always more secure than saying anything in public. When interacting with the media—and many associations and organizations have social media policies for officials about this which may outright bar public comment—it's important to assume that anything said will reach the eyes and ears of every player, coach, and fan.

A Torontonian published an umpire wife's public post.
Unfortunately, this has also carried over to umpires' spouses, friends, and associates, as the vilification of the modern day sports official means that some of the most ardent fans are looking for anything to suggest an umpire may be biased—a lesson Toby Basner's family unfortunately learned in 2016 when Toronto media invaded the Facebook page of Basner's wife who had posted the hashtag #boss alongside photographs of Basner ejecting Blue Jays batter Josh Donaldson—Donaldson even retweeted the content in a maneuver that is sometimes called "doxxing."
Related postMLB Ejection 053 - Toby Basner (1; Josh Donaldson) (5/21/16).

Sidebar: For the umpires & family members of umpires who visit us regularly, we always love having you here—the game & the site could not exist without your contributions on and off the field. We always enjoy when you share our content.

For your and your family's sake, just make sure not to place yourself in a position like the aforementioned. Please do like us on Facebook (UmpireEjections) and follow us on Twitter (@UmpireEjections), and please continue to like and share our non-controversial material! But take care when it comes to ejection reports—assume the ejected person will be reading.

Back to Cuzzi, who, after his private chat with the judge, spent over an hour in the courtroom's gallery, watching the proceedings as a member of the audience (again, just visiting!).

As Cuzzi stood to leave, the same reporter asked him how he had responded to the judge's trash-talker question: "Cuzzi laughed, patted the reporter on the shoulder and walked away."

Let this light-hearted tale be a reminder: as a sports official, public comments—and that includes social media posts—carry weight and it is important to avoid, as MLB wrote about West, the "appearance of lack of impartiality," especially considering the ease with which such information can be gleaned (and skewed without regard to context or facts) in the modern era. Silence cannot be misquoted.

Alternate Link: A message from CCS to all sports officials about public comments (CCS)


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