Sunday, August 8, 2010

You wanna go?

For those who follow baseball, and were watching the Angels v. Detroit game on 06-AUG-2010, we were witness to a very interesting incident between plate umpire Ron Kulpa and the Angels right fielder Torii Hunter. This incident resulted in (2) ejections [the Angles Manager Mike Scioscia was also ejected], a suspension, an appeal, now turned no appeal and no doubt a huge fine.

Take a close look at the video here.

After the pitch and called strike (and it was a strike) Hunter began to argue. Note however that his body language is really quite calm. Clearly Hunter said something though as Kulpa responded to him with "... are you kidding me? Do you want to go?". Kulpa then heaved him, I would say almost half heartedly with a wry smile on his face. Both of these things got my attention right away as somewhat odd behavior from an umpire.

Hunter continued from the 8th to 14th second, palms open and up continuing to plead his case.  Take a look at Kulpa during this time ... he is looking away not paying any notice to Hunter. That is right up until the time Hunter jabbed the bill of his batters helmet into Kulpa's forehead. Well, that seemed to get Kulpa to pay a bit more attention to Hunter at that point as manager Scioscia came out and had to get between them.

Look carefully at what comes next. Tom Hallion comes in and does the smart thing and takes Hunter away and engages him in conversation. Hallion talks to Hunter, looking him in the eye and letting him vent about what just happened. Look at the 36th second of the tape, Hunter is acknowledging Hallion and finally concedes with an "OK".

Kulpa continues with Scioscia and that too results in an ejection, albeit the tape does not show that much of the discussion, but it seems more civil, and my suspicion is more theater, than the Hunter incident.

So what does this all mean?

I would opine in this situation that the whole thing was completely avoidable, all Kulpa had to do, was show Hunter some respect and listen, just for a minute. If he did that I would bet everything would have been fine. This lack of respect for a player, caused what we saw on the tape.

Let me take the alternate position though, what if Hunter said something really vile that warranted the immediate ejection. What should change to possibly avoid some of the collateral damage?

Well for starters I would never, ever invite the player to determine their own fate orally with an invitation like "You wanna go?". To do so, opens a Pandora's box that you don't want to deal with. There are no good answers or actions to that question. You are there to referee, not farm out that responsibility to the players.

Next, if Hunter did say something vile, toss him, I mean TOSS HIM! He should (proverbially) land in the next zip code if he said something like that. There was no such reaction from Kulpa if that was the case. Now, he may have been thinking that he was not going to give Hunter the pleasure of seeing him upset. Well that works for 1::1 stuff, but this was not a 1::1 moment. Everyone was watching, and Kulpa knows better. He sure knew what to do when Hunter hit him with his helmet, very quickly pointing to his own forehead - AT LEAST 3 TIMES!

This would have been cause for a different emotion ... Kulpa getting mad. There would have been far fewer questions and "gap filling" from those watching if Kulpa got really torqued, tossed Hunter, and showed the emotion, like he did after the bump (or "beak" as Kulpa has called it). His manager likely would have said a word or two to Kulpa, collected Hunter and moved on. [Yes, for those referees that want to referee at a high level, some acting is required at times. At the very least understand body language and know how to use it for people that are watching from a distance.]

Another tactic may be to the the manager involved earlier. This may be more difficult in the baseball setting, but in our case another player (not just a teammate) to get some room between you and the player. A few seconds to cool off can work wonders too.

In the final analysis Hunter deserved the (4) games he got for bumping (beaking) Kulpa. Battery on a referee, short of self defense, is never excusable, no matter the trigger. That said, in my opinion, Kulpa should sit a few too to think about how this one could have finished so much better if he just paid a little more respect to Hunter.

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