Big League Stew

Yanks catcher Russell Martin lodges an unusual complaint about umpire Laz Diaz

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

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(AP/US Presswire)

Not that our own Jeff Passan needed more ammo to back his recent assertion that baseball's umpire-player relationship has grown "increasingly ugly," but he got a few more bullets from New York Yankees catcher Russell Martin and umpire Laz Diaz on Wednesday night.

Here's how silly and petty the split that Passan wrote about has gotten: After a 6-5 win over the Angels, Martin opened up to the media with a complaint about Diaz that might be a first. Martin's gripe was that Diaz, who was working behind home plate, refused to let him throw any new balls that were being put into play back to the Yankee pitchers.

Diaz, instead, insisted on throwing them to the mound himself.

It might not seem like that big of a deal, but here's why Martin felt it was (via Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger):

"He told me I had to earn the privilege," said Martin, a seven-year veteran, three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner. "Even at the end of the game after I get hit in the neck. I'm like, can I throw the ball back now? He's still like no. I'm like you're such a (expletive). Like for real. Unbelievable. I even told him like when there's guys on base, I like to keep my arm loose. No. I'm not letting you throw a ball back. That's pretty strange to me."

What's strange to us is that this would even be an issue at all. The method of delivery of new baseballs to the pitcher isn't something that we've ever given much thought and it sure doesn't seem like Diaz should have an objection to Martin wanting to do the job.

But wait! Is there a protocol in place? Was Martin overstepping his bounds with the request? Is this something that's usually allowed?

Typically, Martin said umpires grant his request to throw the ball back to his pitcher, which he likes to do just to keep his arm loose during games. Even after arguments, he said no umpire had ever denied him the request until last night, when Diaz told him he hadn't earned the right.

"Now, thinking back, I should have shown him the gold Rawlings sign on my glove," Martin said.

Martin made his comments long after Diaz had showered and headed home so we don't know his side of the story. Maybe he likes stretching out his own arm during the game. Maybe he wants to ensure the catcher won't scuff the ball before throwing it back to the mound. We have no idea.

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This much, however, is certain: If Martin is telling the truth, there's absolutely no reason for Diaz to belittle a player or disrespect his service time while denying him the privilege. Especially if it's a guy like Martin who claims no knowledge of any previous beefs with Diaz.

But even if they didn't have a disagreement before, they do after Martin took the fight public. Such high-profile spats are not something that should exist in the sport, but baseball is starting to have a really big problem on its hands. After all, it seems like not a week has gone by this season without an umpire becoming a part of a big story with his calls or actions.

And this Martin-Diaz run-in? As perhaps the silliest example of ego and arrogance run amok, it sure isn't going to help the public's view of major-league umpiring. Baseball needs to investigate a little deeper on this one to see if Diaz is due any reprimand.

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