"The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd." ~ Walter Lippmann
Umpires, Overstepping Authority and Human Anatomy
Several times a week this summer, I have been taking one of my sons to a nearby park for batting practice. One morning I suggested that we return in the evening to watch a baseball game. Being almost of Little League age, I thought the experience would be helpful on what to expect when he started playing next year. Twenty minutes into a game, I'm not so sure I want him exposed to that poisonous environment.
In the first inning of play, a tall, gangly kid lofted a fly ball deep down the left field line. I was sitting behind the backstop looking right down the third base line, so I had a perfect view of whether the ball would be fair or foul, at least one as good as the umpire. No one else watching the game had this view of the ball.
I shifted my eyes from the ball to the foul line several times each second, measuring the trajectory and trying to anticipate when, and if, the ball would break that imaginary plane established by the foul pole before the ball cleared the fence. The foul pole was of little assistance in making this call. Although painted yellow, it was only six feet high. Even still, I determined that the ball was foul before it would have 'hooked' around the pole. It was nothing more than a long strike.
The umpire came to the same decision and the game continued. I overheard a man sitting in a lawn chair to my left say something to the people around him about how close that was, but that the umpire had the best angle to make the call. As it would turn out, the kid who hit the ball was his son.
A few pitches later, the same kid was called out on strikes. As he was walking away from the plate, the kid said over his shoulder, 'You call that a strike but a home run a foul ball?' Without hesitation, the umpire threw the kid out of the game. The kid was surprised, as was his coach and many watching the game. When the coach asked why the kid didn't receive a warning, the umpire said that no warnings are given when arguing balls and strikes; ejection from the game is automatic. Rules being rules, the kid had to leave the area of play immediately.
Now it was dad's turn. He commented, as did a few others, that the umpire was too quick to throw the kid out. The umpire came over and pointed directly at the guy and warned him to keep his mouth shut or he would be ejected as well. After a few tense seconds, the umpire returned to his place behind home plate and the game resumed. A few pitches later, the kid's dad began jabbering out loud about the home run that was taken away from his kid. Immediately, the umpire asked the guy to leave the park.
Enter the local Little League official. Without ascertaining the details of what had transpired, he commanded everyone watching the game to leave the umpires alone. He escorted the ejected father to a 'neutral' area and spoke to him for several minutes about the incident.
The umpire made the right call on the foul ball. I didn't think there was any question that the ball was foul. The kid reacted the way he did because no kid likes to be called out on strikes. The umpire overreacted when he threw the kid out of the game. All he had to do was ignore the kid. So what if the rules say otherwise? The kid's comment was neither spiteful or provocative. He just kept walking back to the dugout. Even after the umpire had thrown him out, he maintained his composure and left the field without further comment.
Maybe if the kid kept jawing from the dugout, the umpire could have walked over and warned the coach and all the players that he was not going to tolerate such behavior. But he didn't do that. As far as I was concerned, the umpire just confirmed what thinking people already know about authority figures in general: they are complete assholes.
Recently, I read about another incident in which an umpire went too far with his delegated authority. In this case, the umpire directed players and coaches from one of the teams to stop speaking Spanish on the field. He was concerned that Spanish was being used to relay 'potentially illegal' instructions.
What prompted the umpire? One of the coaches used Spanish to tell his pitcher to try and pick off a runner on second base. The attempt failed, but since when is an attempted pick-off illegal in any language? What if the coaching staff developed a signal to pick off a runner on second base? That's what the pros do; they use 'sign language' and timing. Will kids representing foreign countries at the Little League World Series now be required to learn English, just so they will not be able to communicate 'illegal instructions' in another language to each other on the field? National Little League spokesman Lance Van Auken said that the umpire had 'simply overstepped his authority,' but since 'there was no malicious intent,' he would not be punished.
Let's see, that logic sounds familiar. An authority figure overstepping his authority with no malicious intent, claiming to help people, maybe free them from tyranny and give them a government they can call their own. More than a few thousand people might be killed, but hey, it's for a good cause. If things go bad, his intentions were good all along, so how can he be held accountable? He did what he thought was in the best interest of everyone based on his interpretation of the rules established by those who preceded him. Instead of being critical or outraged, we should be grateful he is willing to take on that responsibility.
Besides the correlation between umpires and authority figures in general to specific locations on the human body, another lesson garnered from this experience, one especially detrimental to all the kids participating in the game, is that the authorities, whoever or wherever they may be, are always right, so keep your mouth shut, don't ask questions, don't criticize, and don't resist them while they are lording over you.
Whoa! On second thought, maybe those kids did get a functional lesson on life, after all. Considering what's been going on in this country these last five years, what happens on the field with umpires and infallibility is simply a microcosm of what's going on in the wider world of America . Okay then, play ball!