Bet on it: If Daniel Murphy had F-bombed umpire Alan Porter Tuesday night, Murphy would be sent to bed without his supper and with a few thousand less dollars in his bank account. What’s the penalty for the ump F-bombing the player who did nothing more heinous than ask him to move a bit further out of Murphy’s sight line playing second base?
Before anyone mounts a high horse crowing about insolent players or put-upon umpires, be advised that infielders asking umpires to shift their positioning is about as uncommon as a full count. And it’s the extremely rare umpire who doesn’t accommodate such requests. The umps’ jobs depend big on players having the proper sight as well as the best positioning.
So in the top of the second against the Braves Tuesday night, with the Nationals up 3-0 early, Murphy having accounted for the third run with a first-inning launch into the right field bleachers, the Braves had runners on the corners with one out when Porter positioned himself on the edge of the infield grass, right in Murphy’s best sightline.
Murphy asked Porter to move just so. Porter turned around and even the most amateur lip reader could tell Porter replied with something rhyming with “chuck stew.” The worst kept secret in baseball is Murphy’s liabilitiy as a defensive second baseman, but doesn’t he have enough problems playing the position without an umpire blocking his sight line and getting even quietly nasty about it when asked to un-block?
Last year, Bryce Harper had a little to-do with an umpire and dropped an F-bomb on the ump, getting himself a day off without pay for his trouble. What about umps who answer reasonable and unbelligerent player requests with F-bombs? What’s their punishment?
The irony in the Murphy-Porter debate is that Murphy actually played like a Gold Glove candidate for once Tuesday night. An inning before the F-bomb he started a difficult double play by spearing Nick Markakis’s hard smash up the pipe with Ender Inciarte on the run in advance trying to steal. A few innings later, he speared Matt Kemp’s high hopper, straight over his head, and started another double play. Both ended their respective innings.
Those plays and his first-inning H-bomb helped the Nats paste the Braves, 10-5. The last thing Murphy needed was a rude rejection of a routine request from a rude umpire.
Murphy told reporters after the game he was square with Porter. “Alan and I talked,” the veteran infielder said. “I think we both understand we’ve got a job to do, and we were both able to discuss and work through that. By the end of the game, there were no problems whatsoever. I don’t foresee there being any problems in the future, either.”
Not from umpires, anyway. The Nats have enough problems, particularly their porous bullpen, which is now problematic not just on the field. “In the clubhouse,” according to the Washington Post‘s Barry Svrluga, ”this is viewed as an organizational failure, because that’s what it is . . . ”
Remember: this is the front office that couldn’t convince Mark Melancon to stay in Washington, that couldn’t talk Kenley Jensen out of staying with the Dodgers who raised him from a pup, and that turned down one deal for White Sox closer David Robertson because the Nats’ owners balked at pulling the trigger. Not to mention spurning another trade in place, for Greg Holland, now with the Rockies, because the owners wouldn’t approve the deal.
Svrluga says those Nats who came to spring training wondering about their lack of an established closer were told by team management, in one way or another, “Do your job.” Well, as Svrluga follows up, the lineup and the rotation can both say, “We are!”
And yet three winnable games, two of them all but won, were lost.
“We feel like we have to win the game three times,” one Nationals position player said recently.
Another established position player noted that, on more than one occasion, the Nats have come off the field in the middle innings, already with five or six runs on the board, and Baker has exhorted them with something along the lines of, “Let’s get some more.” The need is implied.
“That drives us crazy,” the player said. “Get some more? Come on. We’ve done our job.”
Rest assured, the Nats have bigger problems than one belligerent umpire. But it might be refreshing to discover that baseball government—which too often resembles government government for balancing ineptitude with butting in where it doesn’t belong—actually knows when and where to butt in in such matters as Porter’s un-called-for counterattack.
That knowledge might begin with reminding itself, and everyone else who plays or loves the game, that no fan in major league history has ever paid admission to a ballpark to see the umpires. Not even to see Joe West.