Harper’s bizarre with Marvelous Marv

Hudson (right) preparing to throw Harper out of the game. From the look of it, Hudson might have wished he could throw Harper out of the ballpark.

Hudson (right) preparing to throw Harper out of the game. From the look of it, Hudson might have wished he could throw Harper out of the ballpark.

For those curious, and who aren’t always abreast of ancient history, this journal is named for an Original Met (sort of: he was acquired during an in-season deal), Marv Throneberry. God rest his soul in peace, his earnest personality and comic opera play in 1962 earned him the nickname Marvelous Marv.

He was the sort of player ground down by circumstances from a glittering enough prospect (with the Yankees) to a spare part (with the Kansas City Athletics and the Orioles). By the time he became a Met, Throneberry had little left but a little long ball power and a sense of humour about himself and his circumstances. Improbably, he became almost the most popular Original Met on a team whose ineptitude seemed to carry sex appeal compared to the imperial, smugger-than-thou Yankees across the river.

Today I’m writing about another Marvelous Marv, the only marvel about whom is that baseball government seems willfully blind to an apparent vendetta he carries against a certain team. His name is Marvin Hudson. He is an umpire. And he seems to have a burgeoning desire to make baseball life as miserable for the Washington Nationals as is within his power.

I don’t know Hudson personally. I know only that he tangled with Nationals star Bryce Harper and manager Matt Williams Wednesday over a happenstance that would be amusing if it didn’t suggest something a little more ominous. The happenstance was a blown strike call in the third inning; the first pitch Harper faced sailed in below the zone. Harper—whose current explosions suggests a batting eye well focuses—laid off the pitch. Hudson called it a strike.

Harper did nothing in that moment but turn his head up the first base line, waggle his bat a bit behind his hip, then turn back to the plate and perhaps purr a small amount. Just what he said is lost, and it didn’t seem to offend Hudson, at first glance, since—and here’s one key—Harper still stood in the batter’s box and looked prepared for the next service from the Yankees’ Adam Warren. Harper never even made eye contact with Hudson in that moment.

At that moment Marvelous Marv looked as though to be glaring at Harper rather than setting himself up to watch the forthcoming pitch. Objecting to a call on a pitch is an automatic ejection by the rules, but for that moment wiser heads prevailed. And Warren was just about ready to deliver. Then Hudson called time and began crowing at the Nationals dugout, from which Williams was giving him a mild earful, perhaps about the blown strike call. With the time out call, Harper stepped out of the batter’s box.

That’s when Hudson quit barking at Williams and ordered Harper back into the batter’s box, to which Harper apparently replied words to the effect of That’s where I was before you called time to yap at my manager, fool! As if to emphasise the point, Harper pointed to the inside of the box with the end of his bat. Harper then moved back to the box, but before he got over the box’s line, Hudson gave him the ho-heave.

Hudson's history with the Nats may go back to tossing Johnson in 2012 over a blown call against the Nats on a play at first base.

Hudson’s history with the Nats may go back to tossing Johnson in 2012 over a blown call against the Nats on a play at first base.

And, yes, there may be some history involved. Two years ago, Harper barked at Hudson over a game-ending check swing strike call, Hudson being the appeal ump, despite Harper looking like he didn’t quite go around or past the front of the plate on the checked swing. That was the end of a game in which Hudson had ejected, earlier, Stephen Strasburg Scott Hairston, and then-manager Davey Johnson.

In September 2012, Marvelous Marv tossed Johnson after calling the Braves’ Marvin Prado safe on a play in which first baseman Adam LaRoche had to stretch for a throw on an infield grounder (pitcher Edwin Jackson knocked the ball down and threw from the third base side) and managed to keep his foot on the pad as Prado was out by a step and a half.

The normally quiet LaRoche argued with Hudson. Johnson sprang from the Nats’ dugout to ask Hudson to call for help from other umps. Hudson looked to bark at Johnson, who replied in kind, and Hudson tossed Johnson rather dramatically. The next Braves batter, Jason Heyward, yanked one over the right center field fence to tie the game.

No wonder the Nats think Hudson is a bit of a baiter, even if they’re quietly aware that times come when Harper is his own worst enemy. “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump,” Harper steamed after his ho-heave. Even the Yankees’ announcers were staggered by Harper’s ejection.

“I can assure you, unless he left some tickets for friends, nobody in this ballpark came to see Marvin Hudson,” crowed Yankee announcer Michael Kay. “Just nobody did. Again, I don’t know what Bryce Harper said, but short of threatening him, that’s a little harsh to throw out one of the game’s best players.”

Did Williams (center) exacerbate the tension between Hudson and Harper enough to get Harper a wrongful toss?

Did Williams (center) exacerbate the tension between Hudson and Harper enough to get Harper a wrongful toss?

His broadcast partner Paul O’Neill, the former Yankee star, concurred. “Umpire misses a call then throws out star player Harper for no reason?” O’Neill tweeted. “Fans should get there money back! Big break for the Yanks!”

There was some chirping that Williams had turned the situation worse simply by barking out at Hudson in the first place. “Everyone agrees that Hudson had a needlessly quick hook,” writes the Washington Post‘s Clinton Yates. “But it’s also evident that Williams, as a manager, needs to make sure that his most important players stay in games. Yelling at umpires from the dugout in the middle of an at-bat is probably not a great way to make that happen.”

Which doesn’t excuse an umpire who may think he has a history with a team and who may be looking for the slightest excuse to make things dicey for them. Somewhere in the middle of the subsequent debating over Harper’s bizarre, the Nats managed to beat the Yankees without their best hitter thus far. Marvelous Marv got some splainin’ to do.

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