News broke Monday evening that Cleveland Indians pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez would be suspended for five games after his beaning Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki Sunday cleared both teams’ benches. No physical fighting broke out, no one was ejected from the game, and despite the fact that he and Tulowitzki had sparred in the press Jimenez denies that the hit-by-pitch was intentional, yet Major League Baseball still decided to suspend him.
The actual time he’ll miss won’t be that big of a deal; Jimenez will appeal the suspension so he won’t miss his first start of the season, and depending on when he begins to serve his time the Indians might not even need to call up a spot starter to take his place. But even if we disbelieve Jimenez and assume that the beaning was purposeful, that Major League Baseball opted to suspend him is a demonstration of complete hypocrisy.
Let’s go back to June 2, 2010. The Indians were in Detroit, and with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning the Tigers were up 3-0. But it wasn’t just a shutout: Tigers starting pitcher Armando Galarraga was two strikes away from completing the 21st perfect game in MLB history. Jason Donald made contact with Galarraga’s 1-1 offering for a weak ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who flipped it to Galarraga for the force at first. In case you don’t recall, here’s what happened next:
First-base umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly and inexplicably called Donald safe at first, costing Galarraga a chance at history. Pressure mounted on MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call and proclaim Donald out. Joyce admitted his mistake. Fans and writers nationwide saw the missed call. Even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs advocated for Selig to intervene.
But Selig refused to overturn Joyce’s call. He was tight-lipped in the aftermath of the incident, but asserted that “most baseball people” are against the use of instant replay to settle disputed calls. The argument against replay has been hashed out countless times: The umpires are the authorities on the field, and just as a parent goes along with the rules his or her spouse sets for their children, Selig does not want to undermine them. Overturning Joyce’s decision, he said, would have opened a “Pandora’s box” of questioning umpires’ calls in the future.
Well, Mr. Selig, the Pandora’s box has been opened.
The umpires in Scottsdale on Sunday made a decision after the pitch hit Tulowitzki’s arm: no one had acted inappropriately enough to be punished. The officials had every opportunity to throw Jimenez out of the game. While they were at it, they could have ejected Tulowitzki too, plus anyone else on either team who seemed particularly provocative as the benches clear. But they didn’t.
The umpires decided that Jimenez did not need to be punished, and by suspending him after the fact, Major League Baseball is undermining the officiating crew by reversing their decision.
The league’s intervention in this case is particularly offensive because there is no clear story of what happened. Jimenez maintains that he did not mean to hit Tulowitzki, and given the awful command he displayed in that outing that at least seems like a plausible explanation. (Speaking of, be sure to check out Patriot’s fantastic analysis of the odds that Jimenez meant to hit him.) Major League Baseball has taken a side in an issue that isn’t black-and-white and is presuming Jimenez guilty until he is proven innocent.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt at all that Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game. In case you missed it in the video, you can see here that Donald was plainly and clearly out at first base. Even Selig admitted that Joyce had blown the call: “There is no dispute that last night’s game should have ended differently,” he said in a statement the next day. The league refused to undermine Joyce’s authority even when it was a proven fact that Galarraga had pitched a perfect game, yet it had no problem overruling its officials in a situation where there was reasonable doubt.
I don’t know exactly how to explain the double-standard; to my knowledge, there is no leaguewide conspiracy to make Galarraga and Jimenez’ lives harder. The only possible explanation I can come up with is that the league brass saw the “imperfect game” controversy through the lens of instant replay and formed their opinions thusly. (I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Bud Selig isn’t a fan of instant replay.) Whatever the rationale, clearly the league is not applying the same standard.
Mr. Selig: If you want to take a laissez-faire approach to umpiring, that’s fine. I don’t happen to agree with your philosophy, but I can respect your opinions so long as you are consistent in your approach. But suspending Jimenez is not consistent with your stated ideals of letting the officials make the calls. I don’t claim to know the reasoning behind your seemingly arbitrary application of the league’s authority—though given the circumstances, it would be deliciously ironic if I assumed your motives to be sinister—but intentional or not, there is no good excuse for hypocrisy.
Be willing to overturn umpires’ decisions or let the officials have the final say—the former approach would be preferable, but either way is fine so long as we have consistency. Mr. Selig, if you feel you are better qualified to assess what went through Jimenez’ mind when he toed the rubber against Tulowitzki than the umpires were, that’s respectable. But in that case, you can’t sit idly by and preach the sacredness of on-field calls the next time a runner is called out at home plate when the catcher misses the tag.