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Umpire John Hirschbeck goes looking for trouble, finds it

May 5, 2013, 7:20 PM EDT

bryce harper getty Getty Images

I have long believed that an umpire is best seen and not heard, a line often used to describe children. Like children, some umpires tend to think they are the center of attention and their offenses are of the utmost importance. John Hirschbeck was among them this afternoon, when he went looking for a confrontation and found it in Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

Harper check-swung on a 2-2 slider from Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez, which just barely escaped the edge of the strike zone. Home plate umpire Bob Davidson appealed to third base umpire Hirschbeck, who ruled that Harper had swung at the offering. Harper, exasperated, expressed his disagreement with the call some 100 feet away. Hirschbeck immediately threw up his hands and yelled at Harper, like a drunk guy looking for trouble in a bar. He walked towards home plate, continuing to gesticulate and shout as Harper quietly talked to Davidson from the batter’s box. Third base coach Trent Jewett intercepted Hirschbeck as he stomped towards Harper, but it was no matter as Hirschbeck ejected Harper from the game shortly thereafter.

This reminds me of an altercation a few years ago between Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and third base umpire Scott Barry. The circumstances were similar, though much later in the game. Barry, like Hirschbeck, was looking for a fight and got one. He ejected Howard in the bottom of the 14th inning, which forced the Phillies to use Roy Oswalt in left field.

I bring that up only as a secondary example to what happened this afternoon. An umpire should never be looking for a fight; rather, an umpire should always be striving to prevent one when possible. Like a customer service employee being yelled at by an unhappy customer, an umpire should stand statuesque, speaking calmly (or not at all). Hirschbeck’s behavior this afternoon is Exhibit A  when baseball fans plead for less reliance on “the human element”.

Watch the conflict:

110 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. melkipershero - May 5, 2013 at 7:26 PM

    What the ump did was worse than what Harper did. Of course umps arent held accountable.

    • flamethrower101 - May 5, 2013 at 7:29 PM

      If Bud Selig were here right now, he would fine your behind. Oh wait, we’re not on Twitter. Nevermind, you’re good.

    • tuberippin - May 5, 2013 at 8:33 PM

      Umpires need to be able to be ejected if they act like complete assholes, as Hirschbeck did here today.

      • indaburg - May 6, 2013 at 6:31 AM

        I would so love to see an umpire ejected. “You! Fatass! You’re outta here!”

  2. flamethrower101 - May 5, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    I can hear something in the distance. It’s Bud Selig slow-clapping, giving his approval for the proper demonstration on the use of the “human element.”

    • tuberippin - May 5, 2013 at 9:10 PM

      Somewhere out there, six feet under, Kenesaw Mountain Landis is giving a bony thumbs up.

  3. chacochicken - May 5, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    Well, he got that damn kid off his lawn. Be warned, few can criticize Umprial authority lest they be ex-communicated.

  4. tycobbfromfangraphs - May 5, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    Another reason i will cheer for the day when every Umps are basically rendered meaningless. A properly run league would suspend Hirshbeck and eventually remove him and others from the game permanently. The game of baseball would be better off, maybe if fans had it in them to protest and boycott the next game MLB would start taking it serious, until then they will wait until a World Series game 7 where an ump pulls this garbage before anything is done.

    • jeff10461 - May 6, 2013 at 1:23 PM

      Fans do have the right to protest nad boycott games. Nobody is forcing you or them to attend or change the channel to watch! We fans are idiots, and the MLB knows it, afterall, attendance is at record lows since the last strike/lockout. NOT!

  5. Stiller43 - May 5, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    Boy i wish you would have told me there was a video below, so i didnt spend all that time reading the description!

    Bogus ejection. Harper DID dissent the call there, but he did nothing worth getting ejected for.

  6. tfbuckfutter - May 5, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    Hirschbeck which, of course in German, means “a whale’s vagina.”

    • cocheese000 - May 5, 2013 at 7:44 PM

      German=greatness. Enough said. Good day sir.

      • jimeejohnson - May 5, 2013 at 9:02 PM

        German beer = greatness
        German hockey = mediocre
        German basketball = subpar
        German soccer = greatness
        German technology = doesn’t suck

      • tfbuckfutter - May 5, 2013 at 9:33 PM

        They also fail at World Wars.

  7. genericcommenter - May 5, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    Sure, and so do police-officers. People in “authority” like to show it off, and then a large number of “regular” people disgustingly bow and kiss the toes of any person of authority and then condemn those with the temerity to do otherwise.

  8. tycobbfromfangraphs - May 5, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    I paid all this money to take my family to a baseball game and watch the umpires do their thing.
    – Said by no one ever

    • natslady - May 5, 2013 at 10:18 PM

      I’m on Harper’s side. But what you write is 100% WRONG thinking. You can’t eject or not eject a player based on whether he is a star, or an attraction, or whatever. You have to eject on the MERITS. You can’t favor Harper because of who he is, yet, at the same time, you are NOT out there to “teach him a lesson.” I know it’s difficult, but umpires have to be impartial and treat Harper like any other player. I don’t think that happened in this case.

      • tycobbfromfangraphs - May 5, 2013 at 10:21 PM

        Nice rant, now go direct it at someone who actually suggested that star status should or does play a factor.

      • natslady - May 5, 2013 at 10:26 PM

        @tycob… Excuse me, but the OP did suggest that he/she goes to games to see the players play and umps should just get out of the way. I understand that. But at least as of May 5, 2013 umpires are part of the game.

      • natslady - May 5, 2013 at 10:29 PM

        For example, we had Balkin’ Bob Davidson for this series. He did, in fact, call balks. And you can bet when Gio had a runner on 3rd base, he was very, very careful about how he touched the rubber.

      • tycobbfromfangraphs - May 5, 2013 at 10:52 PM

  9. icanspeel - May 5, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    I don’t agree with how the umpire handled it, but if you notice he pointed to Harper to return to the dugout and he didn’t, so that’s when he was tossed.

    • voteforno6 - May 5, 2013 at 8:04 PM

      I don’t think that was the case. That was the end of the inning, so Harper wouldn’t have been going back into the dugout.

      • natslady - May 5, 2013 at 9:02 PM

        Perhaps true. But he could have simply handed his helmet and gloves to the 1st base umpire. I hate that Harper has to “submit’ to the ump’s authority when what he did wasn’t that bad, but Harper will always be the target of umps and others who think they have to “teach him a lesson.”

      • natslady - May 5, 2013 at 9:03 PM

        Sorry, meant first base coach.

      • brewcrewfan54 - May 5, 2013 at 9:17 PM

        They were both wrong. Harper can’t react to that call like that. Other players suffer similar fate when they do the same thing.

  10. boyfightsblog - May 5, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    You can always tell a milford man

    • duckthefodgers - May 5, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      Best comment.

  11. randygnyc - May 5, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    This is an inauthentic representation of what happened. After hirschbeck called Harper out, Harper gesticulated first by flailing his arms. Hirschbeck s gesticulation came after and mirrored harpers. Bryce define toy showed up the ump.

    • calmincali - May 5, 2013 at 7:53 PM

      Players show their displeasure in calls all the time, it’s an emotional game. Typically, however they are not met with the kind of reaction that Hirschbeck displayed. Umpires are required to remain calm in these situations, otherwise players and umps would be going at it all the time.

    • tuberippin - May 5, 2013 at 8:42 PM

      Heaven forbid a player disagrees with a call, particularly one rendered by a guy standing 90 feet away instead of the guy behind the plate.

      And it doesn’t make it the fault of Harper that Hirschbeck thought it appropriate to mimic Harper’s actions and more or less say “WHAT? WHAT? YOU GOT A PROBLEM?”….then continue to walk towards Harper while yelling. What’s professional about that?

      Bryce Harper is 20 years old. John Hirschbeck is 58 years old, has been an umpire in the major leagues for nearly 30 years, has officiated three World Series, and was the President of the World Umpire’s Association. One does not know better. The other damn well should know better, but as we can see here, age does not always equate to the acquisition of wisdom.

      • natslady - May 5, 2013 at 8:54 PM

        Very true. Unfortunately, you have to bow to authority. The other day a policeman (about 30 years my junior) started yelling at me for parking in a handicapped zone. I was at a loss, but very, very quietly said, “SIr, I have handicap plates,” and sort of looked back at them. Then he left. No apology, he just left.

      • jimeejohnson - May 5, 2013 at 9:03 PM

        You have to question authority.

      • tuberippin - May 5, 2013 at 9:22 PM

        While I agree to an extent, natslady, I think this is an exception to such a rule. While Harper’s physical gestures were certainly childish, we need to keep in mind that Harper is a man-child still. He’s a 20 year old major league ballplayer, hitting home runs off grown men, yet without the ability to legally buy a drink. We should anticipate, if not expect, some childish actions (like the eye-black last year and in years prior in the minors) on his part.

        But this is not Slim Delmon Young tossing a bat at an umpire. This is a small incident made much larger by the actions of the umpire. Moreover, this is the on-field enforcement arm of the MLB. His actions, by extension, make those in charge of the game look less professional and less competent. There are situations where that kind of action is warranted, I suppose, but this is not one of those situations.

      • djpostl - May 5, 2013 at 9:53 PM

        “particularly one rendered by a guy standing 90 feet away instead of the guy behind the plate.”

        You do realize that his vantage point on that call isn’t a hindrance, but rather makes that call easier to judge, right?

      • tuberippin - May 5, 2013 at 9:59 PM

        My point is that it was a deferred call, not a direct call. Hirschbeck wasn’t behind the plate, but situated at 3rd.

      • djpostl - May 5, 2013 at 10:02 PM

        I get that but once the call IS deferred to him it is his, and his alone, to make.

        It wasn’t simply Bob Davidson saying “ah, fuck it…let’s try something different. Hey John, what do ya think?”

      • tuberippin - May 5, 2013 at 10:04 PM

        This is true. Regardless, my issue isn’t with the call, but with the actions following the call.

      • djpostl - May 5, 2013 at 10:06 PM

        Definitely agree with you on that assessment. Ump could have told the 3B coach to “rein the kid in” or similar and let it lie.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 5, 2013 at 11:23 PM

      Come on randy, you are a Yankees fan. if umpires threw out every player that gesticulated after a bad call, paul oneil never would have finished a game, ever.

      • Paul Proia - May 5, 2013 at 11:35 PM

        Or Bill Buckner.

  12. captainwisdom8888 - May 5, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    As an umpire or referee, you know you’ve done your job to the best of your ability when the fans barely notice your presence in the game.

  13. hockeyflow33 - May 5, 2013 at 7:40 PM

    Disgraceful

  14. brewcrewfan54 - May 5, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    I dont think Harper should have been tossed but he’s gotta learn to not react like that to those calls. Maybe he learned a lesson today.

    • pdowdy83 - May 5, 2013 at 9:17 PM

      You say that like Bryce reacts to every call that way. Which is definitely not the case.

      The umpire, under no circumstances, should start walking towards a player to further the issue. That was completely out of line. It is one thing if Bryce had stormed over and argued with him but he made a gesture at home plate and then Hirschbeck started yelling and approaching him. I am 100% sure that is not how he was trained to handle a situation like that.

      • brewcrewfan54 - May 5, 2013 at 9:22 PM

        i said he shouldn’t have been thrown out. That means I think the umpire was wrong in his handling of the play. Harper though also can’t throw up his arms the way he did on that ruling. That always gets an umpires attention and any player who does the same will get a similar reaction from many umps.

      • pdowdy83 - May 6, 2013 at 9:51 AM

        I did not say you said he should have been thrown out. I said your comment implies that Harper reacts that way often which is not true. I have seen numerous incidents in the game of baseball where players have reacted in a fashion to a call they did not like. However I have rarely seen an umpire mock a player and come toward them yelling.

        Harper was not yelling at Hirschbeck, he was talking to the home plate umpire and after the ridiculous behavior by Hirschbeck he said something. I’m sure whatever it was that he said was grounds for being tossed but at that point the ump deserved it. If players can be tossed from a game like that then umpires should definitely get a 1 game suspension for exhibiting behavior like that. Whether he was right in his call or not and whether you believe Harper should or shouldn’t have been ejected I think e everyone can agree the ump was out of line.

  15. outsiderj - May 5, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    I really hope this isn’t based on FP Santangelo’s remarks. He always playing the “Umps are out to get the Nats angle”

    • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - May 5, 2013 at 10:32 PM

      FP Santangelo is the worst ever. I’d rather hear John Hirschbeck rip ass into a microphone for three hours than listen to FP Santangelo broadcast a baseball game.

  16. connormyboy - May 5, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    Maybe David Price was on to something. These umps think their s don’t stink.

  17. paperlions - May 5, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    Pretty sad when a 20 yr old player acts far more mature than a 59 yr old umpire.

  18. professorperry - May 5, 2013 at 8:06 PM

    Also, the pitch was a strike, wasn’t it?

  19. senioreditor2 - May 5, 2013 at 8:23 PM

    wait until he’s calling balls and strikes and let him take one in the mask…..he’ll think twice about it next time.

  20. js20011041 - May 5, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    All those that went apeshit about Tom Hallion last weekend, take note. This is the kind of garbage you should be directing your anger toward.

    • hittfamily - May 5, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      Hallion did the exact same thing. A player was 80 feet away yelling at the ground. Hallion followed him towards the dugout, then yelled to him that he should be better at his job… er…fucking job. (throw it over the fucking plate). He then kept walking towards the dugout when the team erupted in anger, and threw out the first person to disobey his order to be quiet. It sounds like this is a very similiar situation.

      • js20011041 - May 6, 2013 at 7:28 AM

        Not even close. Price was bitching about the call for a pretty decent amount of time. Hallion gave some of it back to him. Harper probably shouldn’t have raised his arms like that, but I can understand a reaction to a call that he thinks is bad. The difference is that Hirschbeck clearly escalated the argument by imitating Harper by raising his arms. Harper wasn’t yelling. He wasn’t particularly demonstrative. He raised his arms once. Then simply dropped his helmet. That was an argument started and escalated by Hirschbeck. The incident between Price and Hallion would’ve been nothing had Price simply had the initial reaction to the call and let it go. Instead Price kept at it. That’s the difference.

      • hisgirlgotburrelled - May 6, 2013 at 9:43 AM

        I said the same thing last week- that umpire was over at the Rays dugout looking for trouble. There was no good reason for him to walk over there. This is the same. No good reason for the umpire to walk towards Harper.

        In both situations I couldn’t think of a worse way for the umpires to have reacted. One yells back at the pitcher to ‘throw it over the fucking plate’ and the other imitates the batter’s reaction to the call. If both did nothing the argument would have immediately ended and the game goes on.

  21. mungman69 - May 5, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    I watch baseball to watch the players play NOT to watch umpires ump.

  22. thebadguyswon - May 5, 2013 at 8:34 PM

    Nothing will change until Selig is gone. He is too tight with the Ump’s union.

  23. natslady - May 5, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    OK, I say this as (obviously) as a Nats fan. This video doesn’t show the whole story.

    I do think Bryce was correct that he checked his swing. HOWEVER, after he raised his arms, he later threw down both his bat and his helmet. I wouldn’t say he “slammed” them down, but he could have carried them back to the dugout (Harper was the third out).

    The ump defended himself to reporters after the game, saying he was being “nice” to Harper, by not ejecting him immediately–no, he waited for the further action. I think the ump was in the wrong–by a LOT–but Harper had his chance to walk away from the confrontation.

    The game had only just begun when Hirschbeck rung up Harper on a borderline check-swing call, ending the top of the first. As the Pirates trotted off the field, Harper remained at the plate, throwing his arms out in disbelief. Hirschbeck, standing 90 feet away, immediately mimicked the motion and started jawing at Harper, taking a few steps his way before ejecting the 20-year-old after he slammed his bat and helmet to the ground.

    “I was actually just being nice,” Hirschbeck told a pool reporter. “Even the hands up in the air is showing me up, to me. I could have ejected him right then. I was nice enough to leave him in the game. And then he slammed his bat down. And then on top of that, he slammed his helmet. I had no other recourse, really.”

    The Nats won the game, and Harper said everything correct later.

    http://www.natsinsider.com/2013/05/harper-ejected-in-1st-inning.html

    • tuberippin - May 5, 2013 at 8:50 PM

      I do not like Bryce Harper, but John Hirschbeck needs to gain a better perspective on things.

      I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Hirschbeck is strongly disliked by a lot of players. Actions like this are completely inappropriate for a man who is old enough to be a grandfather.

      Doesn’t surprise me too much that it was Hirschbeck, though, considering he’s the only umpire that I can recall to have been spit on by a player (the infamous Roberto Alomar incident in ’96) for his actions during a disputed call. That doesn’t put Alomar (or Harper) in the right, but Hirschbeck clearly has been doing something incorrect over the years when it comes to these things.

    • Walk - May 5, 2013 at 11:30 PM

      Slamming the bat and helmet down are equipment fines, we had this same situation occur last season. I do not remember the tem but I do remember it happening. I also find it very telling that the umpire seemed to care about “showing me up” more than anything.

    • cktai - May 7, 2013 at 4:25 AM

      “slammed” his bat down

      http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7287/8714908480_6c8a608346_o.gif

  24. natslady - May 5, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    Oh, and then, when a reporter asked whether fans came to see Harper or the ump, the ump said, “It’s Harper’s job” to stay in the game “not mine.” You could really, really dislike this ump.

    Davey came out and had a long and apparently civil discussion with the ump (and was not ejected).

    By the way, Harper is hurt (severely bruised side from a bang up against the wall a couple days ago), and sitting out a game was probably a GOOD thing.

  25. Kevin Gillman - May 5, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    Isn’t Hirschbeck the crew chief?

    • natslady - May 5, 2013 at 8:47 PM

      According to this bio, yes, he is.

      http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/umpires/bio.jsp?id=2450

      • Kevin Gillman - May 5, 2013 at 8:49 PM

        I thought so, and that is very sad when the crew chief of the umpiring crew acts like a 3 year old. He needs to be fined, and maybe even suspended, but he won’t, unforunately.

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