The other night in Cincinnati Umpire Larry Goetz called an automatic third strike on Redleg Batter Frank Robinson while Robinson was still arguing with him about his call on the second strike. Subsequently, he ordered two of Robinson's protesting teammates from the game, in the next inning threw the opposing catcher, Wes Westrum of the New York Giants, out too for questioning a decision, and finished up by sending New York Manager Bill Rigney and a coach after Westrum. It was, in all, a full evening for Larry and one that the large crowd, which, though booing Goetz, nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed.
Baseball is probably the only sport in which disagreement with the decisions of duly appointed officials is an integral and welcome part of the game itself. In some sports you scarcely ever notice the officials, and in others you are annoyed by them.
But baseball is a spectacle and the actions of the umpire beyond strict performance of duty are part of that spectacle, and so are the reactions of the players to the umpire (or, more rarely, to other players and spectators).
Purists will resent this idea. They hold that arguments and fighting have no place in the game, and that the ideal umpire is he whose decisions go unquestioned and who therefore is not noticed. But baseball, happily, isn't cricket, and even such a conservative baseball man as Will Harridge, the venerable president of the American League, is pro-rhubarb. "I love to see Casey Stengel come out and argue," he recently told John Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News. "And so," he added, "do the fans."
Harridge, of course, is right. Cincinnati Coach Jimmy Dykes was defending a Redleg player a few weeks ago for yelling at an umpire after he had been called out at second base on a close play in a tight game. "Hell," said Jimmy, "if the player don't yell in a spot like that, the fans think he don't give a hoot whether he wins or loses. What do the umpires want him to do, just walk off the field like nothing happened? A player's got to beef."
Most umpires agree that rhubarb is part of the baseball diet, but they feel it must be controlled. In the minor leagues, where umpires frequently lack real authority or command, onfield arguments sometimes become ridiculous in their fury. Baseball isn't all that important.
Larry Goetz will tolerate a ballplayer who has to blow off steam, though admittedly not for very long. But Goetz simply will not condone anything that he believes is undermining the umpire's basic authority and, therefore, his control of the game.
He is forever telling young umpires to clamp down on rebellious players. Goetz feels that once an umpire lets a player get away with abuse of authority, he leaves himself open to an unmerciful bullying. He will then be challenged on every close decision, and the umpires' control of the game will steadily deteriorate.
A few years ago Wally Moon of the St. Louis Cardinals protested a strike called by a young umpire. Hot words were exchanged, and in from the third-base coaching box trotted Eddie Stanky, the skilled umpire-baiter who was then manager of the Cardinals. He soothed Moon, restored peace and then returned, apparently quietly, to his coaching" position. But as he walked past the umpire, he made a tart comment supporting Moon's complaint. Technically, he was disputing the umpire's judgment on balls and strikes, a luxury the rules expressly forbid to managers, lest each of the 150 strike-or-ball decisions in a game inspire argument. Technically, he should have been ordered out of the game. But the young umpire, seeing Stanky walking quietly on toward third base, said and did nothing.
After the game Goetz cornered his young cohort. "You know what you did?" he demanded. "You've made every other umpire's job in this league a little tougher. Unless somebody jumps on those guys right away, they'll be yelling now on every pitch, every decision. You give them an inch and they come at you from every direction.