There is a special connection between the two players and one official around the home plate area in Major League Baseball. The fact that there is a baseball flying in the general direction of all three men generally creates a kinship for the few minutes they are standing and crouching there together. At least usually that’s what happens. Atlanta Braves outfielder Justin Upton was ejected from Friday night’s game by plate umpire Paul Nauert. Whatever kinship there was supposed to be there wasn’t there at all for these two as Nauert clearly had an agenda in throwing out Upton. It is an example of the kind of call that should cause an umpire to be fined or suspended.
I’ve been watching baseball for the better part of 30 years and I have never once seen a home plate umpire throw out a batter while he is running to first base. It’s cowardly and makes absolutely no sense at all in the situation. What happened? Actually, it happened in the prior at-bat when Upton was upset after striking out and let the umpire know about it. It seemed at the time that since Upton wasn’t really showing him up that Nauert just let it go. Kudos to him that would have been; but that’s not what happened.
What actually happened was that Nauert let it fester inside and by the time Upton came up again he was looking for a reason to throw the Braves right fielder out of the game. Upton argued with one call which probably was called a strike just because Nauert was angry at Upton. Still nothing happened that would have gotten him thrown out of the game. So, as Upton hit a soft grounder to second base and used choice words to describe his disgust at the failure to drive in a run, Nauert picked a word that would give someone a reason to throw someone out, simply pretended that Upton said it and tossed him.
Here is the main problem with calls like this. There is no place for personal irritation in the job of the umpire. I know it is a very difficult job to do. My grandfather was an umpire on a much smaller level and I understand just how hard it is to do a good job. I also understand that the moment an umpire decides he has a personal issue with a player the way Nauert clearly did, there is no possible way he can do a good job or make the right call. A judge in that situation would recuse himself from the case. That’s why it should result in at least a fine for umpires whose judgment has been compromised but they don’t care and take it out on the player anyway.
MLB should make sure that their umpires do not have the free will to affect the outcome of a baseball game because their upset at the way something happened. A ton of umpires see this happen all the time. Most of the time they eat their frustration and continue calling the game down the middle. Nauert should have done that, could have done that but chose to take out his frustration on Upton while knowing full well how depleted the Braves outfield is.
No umpire should ever be able to throw a man out while he is halfway down the baseline. The point of an ejection is that you cannot try to show up the umpire. No matter what Upton said, there was no one in the ballpark that would have ever guessed he was speaking to Nauert; which of course is because he wasn’t.
The call was ridiculous and wrong. Nauert should apologize to Fredi Gonzalez the first time he sees his face and should do the same to Upton. Umpires are men just like everyone else, which means they feel frustration from time to time and they make mistakes. Men also admit their mistakes and move on with life. I guess we’ll see today if Nauert lets his wrong-doing fester or if he’ll stand up and be a man about it.