Thursday, August 19, 2010

When The Men In Blue Don't Have A Clue

Being a Major League umpire is a pretty thankless job - nobody disputes that. But there are occasions like Wednesday's Tigers/Yankees game, when Home Plate ump and crew chief Eric Cooper brought it upon himself.

Let's rewind for a second to Monday night, when the Tigers turned a dramatic game-ending DP to take the series opener at Yankee Stadium. The Tigers completed the play despite a vicious takeout slide by the Yankees Brett Gardner, that landed Tigers 2B Carlos Guillen on the disabled list.

Now I am a Yankee fan, but not a Yankee apologist. Gardner's slide, with the game on the line, was a bit overzealous (I refrain from using the "d" word). Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay called it a clean slide live, though you could hear him biting his tongue on the replays.

I recognized right away that with 3 more games in the series, that this situation wasn't resolved. I even tweeted as such at the time. The Tigers, managed by old-school Jim Leyland, sat out the situation on Tuesday as not to involve their ace starter Justin Verlander.

But on Wednesday with Brett Gardner leading off the bottom of the 1st, Tiger starter Jeremy Bonderman returned fire on the very first pitch of the game.

But Bonderman didn't put one in Gardner's ear. He went for the legs of a guy who makes his living with them (34 Stolen Bases), since Gardner injured Guillen's knee.

Gardner didn't charge the mound, he took his base. The Yankee dugout didn't empty. This was the type of baseball justice that's been going on since the game began. You could almost see Joe Girardi tipping his cap to Jim Leyland that the matter was resolved. Except Umpire Eric Cooper injected himself into the situation by warning both benches.

So now fast forward to the 8th inning, with the Yankees holding a 9-4 lead. AL MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, who already homered twice in the game stepped in and was plunked in the back by Yankee reliever Chad Gaudin.

Whether Gaudin intended to hit Cabrera or not, the scenario plus the warning made it a no-brainer. Eric Cooper had to eject Chad Gaudin and his manager, Joe Girardi. But he did nothing.

Was Cooper intimidated by the pinstripes? Or the Yankees crowd? Either way, he proved to be a chump for not following through on his own warning. Jim Leyland rode Cooper relentlessly, until Cooper had no choice but to eject him. And Leyland was still pointing the finger, quite righteously, as he took his walk.

So the situation continued to take on a life of its own, and the umpires had lost control of the game. So in the bottom of the 8th, Tigers reliever Enrique Gonzalez threw behind Yankees captain Derek Jeter.

And the Yankees had to sit there and take it, just like the Tigers did in the previous frame. So despite an early warning, the umpires didn't follow through.

Now the Yankees and Tigers play for the final time in 2010 at 1 PM today. Has the bad blood continued to elevate, or is the matter put to bed? Either way, the umpires, the policemen of the game, were invisible as it played out.

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