I can't imagine being a major league umpire is an enviable job. Rarely are you recognized for doing your job well, and even when you do, half of the people watching will hate you for it. When you do your job poorly, you start to gain a reputation for your mistakes. It's very hard to pinpoint exactly where a small ball goes in an invisible rectangle floating in space. Umpires going to make mistakes. Within the framework of the game, that's acceptable. We know that umpires are fallible.
Umpires know this too, and so they compensate by making their decisions with utmost confidence. There's really no reason to punch somebody out with great bravado when they watch strike three go by, spiraling a hand into the sky or contorting a body in a furious half-twist. It's showmanship. It's harmless entertainment, most of the time. Umpires have developed into characters with unique personalities, attempting to emerge from the background, attempting to become a side dish to the main attraction. That's exceptionally true with a few umpires around the league -- Laz Diaz, Angel Hernandez, among them -- these guys have developed a not-so-great reputation for their calls and behavior, but it only seems to get worse as the years go on.
Some umpires want to make the game all about them, a needless taste for instigation. Last night, home plate umpire Bob Davidson's bullying of Brad Miller was as deplorable as it gets.
Players are going to question balls and strikes. It's part of baseball culture, a player makes a gesture of disagreement, an umpire says "nope" and that's the end of it. Usually. Occasionally, and it seems with growing, alarming frequency, umpires have started going out of their way to pick a fight with players after initial dissent.
Here's what happened last night between Brad Miller and Bob Davidson.
Miller gets punched out on a questionable strike three, stands for a second and voices his mild displeasure at the call. Then Davidson decides he wants a fight.
Miller says his piece and walks away, while Davidson escalates the situation, creating conflict out of thin air. You can see Davidson not only jawing at Miller, but following him to the dugout.
Here's another angle.
After Davidson stalks Miller down, berating him with what I'm sure is some version of "yeah, you better walk away." Miller turns to acknowledge Davidson's ridiculous behavior, half-smiles, and Davidson tosses him.
You can watch the entire video here. It's a completely ridiculous sequence of events. How does a major league umpire get away with flat out bullying a player in the middle of the game? Even more absurd is how non-egregious Miller's protest was -- what happened after that call happens dozens of times across baseball every single night, yet Davidson felt the need to not only take personal offense, but show him up. That is not something that should set an umpire with 30+ years of MLB experience off. That's a sign of mental instability, an ego ballooned out of control.
Davidson has been doing this for years, even earning himself a suspension for repeated "violations of situation handling" in 2012. But that was merely a slap on the wrist, and chances are, Major League Baseball won't do anything about this one either, despite his clear misconduct. Instead, Davidson will be a part of the crew in the All-Star game, an honor bestowed upon him for being one of the best in his field. Davidson isn't even particularly good at his job, calling a whopping 10.78% of balls as strikes.
Something has to change. Nobody is being held accountable. Too many umpires, particularly in Davidson's generation, are increasingly concerned about being some sort of character, a overly-animated supervillain. Chest-thumping macho bullshit at its finest. Antics like this should be punished with consistency and immediacy. Jaw at a player after he's walked away from the situation? Five game ban. Leave the batters box to follow a player to the dugout? Ten games.
Enough is enough. It's exhausting to watch umpires act like they are bigger than the game, and if Major League Baseball is going to continue employing veteran umpires without any meaningful performance reviews, they need to punish them when things like this occur. While tossing Miller didn't end up having a direct effect on the final outcome of the game, it easily could have -- and that level of power should not be so brazenly abused.