Fans cheer for players when they get a hit or make a good play. Fans boo umpires when they make bad calls. This is just a fact in baseball. Any umpire will tell you they do not want to be noticed; because if they are being noticed it means they missed a call. Umpires and players are human. This can get lost in the heat of competition. Every team has calls go against them, and teams also get calls that go their way. Ultimately baseball is a sport played and umpired by imperfect people.
Last week, Phillies closer Jonathon Papelbon had a meltdown on and off the mound. On the mound, Papelbon blew a 4-1 Phillies lead in the 9th inning. He gave up four runs on four hits, a walk, and a wild pitch against the Marlins. After the final out of the inning, and with the Phillies now trailing 5-4, Papelbon heard it from the Philly faithful. He responded in a less than professional manner by grabbing his gentleman’s region as he approached the dugout. Soon thereafter, Umpiring Crew Chief Joe West ejected Papelbon from the game for his less than becoming behavior. The ensuing argument was heated with Papelbon refusing to allow West to walk away. West eventually pulled Papelbon out of this way, which did nothing to lessen Papelbon’s anger. Most fans love the in your face arguments which were more or less a staple in baseball prior to replay. Papelbon vs. West could have been a classic had it been about a missed call and not for the disgusting actions of Papelbon towards the Phillies fans.
While players and umpires should never touch one another, in this case I agree with West’s action, as he was trying to remove the trash from the field. Papelbon’s actions were reprehensible and his seven game suspension could have easily been much longer, and could cost him millions, West did receive a one game suspension, which I believe was justified, but the message was sent to players like Papelbon; if you want to behave in such an unprofessional and profane manner you will be treated like the fool you are.
Seemingly on the other end of the spectrum from Jonathon Papelbon and Joe West you will find Tim Welke and Bryce Harper. In Philadelphia, you had an umpire standing up for the fans against a player, in Atlanta you had an umpire standing up against a fan for a player. The obscenity-spewing fan let Harper have it in the 6th inning of Washington’s Division clinching game last Tuesday in Atlanta. Home plate Umpire Tim Welke decided the fan should beat traffic and ejected him from the game. It is not often you see an umpire eject someone not on the field, but it can and does happen. Just ask Daytona Cubs Organist Derek Dyer what happened when he played 3 Blind Mice after a close play. Welke stood up from Harper, and all other players who hear it from fans on a nightly basis. Fans are not untouchable, they have to behave like adults or they will lose the privilege of watching the game in the stadium. Love him or hate him Harper should be treated like a human being.
Joe West and Tim Welke brought the human aspect of baseball back into focus last week. West stood up to a player who clearly views the paying fans as something that does not deserve respect. When Papelbon continued his antics after his ejection, West showed him as much respect as Papelbon had shown to the crowd. Welke took the opposite approach. He took action against a fan who viewed Bryce Harper as something to be harassed and degraded. Welke stood up for a player and another person when the fan lost touch with reality and aimed his venom at what he presumed was something less than human. Umpires do not do their job for the accolades. They generally do not want to be seen, as it often means they were unsuccessful in getting a call right. However in both the case of Joe West and Tim Welke they were noticed for all the right reason. Both of these men in blue restored the human aspect of baseball when a player and a fan sought to degrade the other into something less than human.