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When you have only one tool

August 9, 2009

In comparison to baseball, the other major sports have relatively few ejections. They’re common enough in basketball, though they are mostly automatically triggered by drawing multiple technical fouls or leaving the bench. They’re extremely rare in football, and normally limited to players who get into fights or otherwise exceed that sport’s very wide tolerance for violence. I don’t recall ever seeing a football coach ejected, though I’m sure someone will remind me of an instance. In baseball, however, ejections are so common that they hardly require comment unless the player or manager goes way overboard arguing (ala Phillip Wellman) or the umpire is way too quick on the trigger.

At first, I thought that the difference might be the relative importance of the individual game: lots of ejections in baseball, where there are lots of games and no one is too important (and ejections are much rarer in postseason), few ejections in football, where there are few games and every one is important, unless the Raiders are playing. Basketball, as usual, is in the middle.

There may be something to that, but on reflection I think that the main reason for the difference is that unlike officials in other sports, umpires really only have one weapon in their arsenal, the ejection. If a basketball coach starts complaining or cursing out an official, that official can call a technical foul. If a football player gets in an official’s face and challenging a call, he will get called for a personal foul. These can be big deals, with the other team getting points, or your team giving up yardage. Umpires can’t do that. All they can do is run a player or manager.

The ironic outcome of this, making the figurative death penalty the only punishment for all crimes, is that umpires wind up putting up with far more abuse than officials in other sports. Because they don’t have a lesser punishment to hand out, they either have to take it, or dish out felony punishment for a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, players and managers don’t know where the line is, because it moves every day. I’m not sure there’s an answer. The only lesser punishment that comes to mind is to give the umpire the ability to start issuing balls and strikes without a pitch being thrown. I’ve heard of this happening sometimes in the minor leagues, where nobody really cares who wins, but I don’t know if Major League Baseball would be willing to take that step, or that if it’s a good idea anyway.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2009 8:27 pm

    “I’ve heard of this happening sometimes in the minor leagues, where nobody really cares who wins, but I don’t know if Major League Baseball would be willing to take that step, or that if it’s a good idea anyway.”

    I think you are thinking of Rule 6.02(d)(1), which applies to National Association (i.e. minor league) play only:

    “If the batter intentionally leaves the batter’s box, and none of the exceptions listed [above] applies, the umpire shall award a strike without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch.”

  2. August 9, 2009 8:33 pm

    Yeah, that sounds like what I’ve heard. Though I’ve also heard of them calling balls when the manager of the side on defense won’t leave the field — usually after an ejection, of course.

  3. Grst permalink
    August 9, 2009 9:15 pm

    I’d be interested to see if, and how, the total number of ejections per season has changed over time.

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