September 27, 2007
During the outburst that got him suspended a week ago, New York Mets outfielder Lastings Milledge, according to a source, threatened bodily harm on umpire Jim Joyce. He cursed at Joyce and said he wanted to fight him. Major League Baseball suspended the Mets outfielder for three games.
"I think three games is a little harsh," Milledge told reporters.
This is not an attempt to defend umpire Mike Winters, suspended Wednesday for the remainder of the regular season, three days after he allegedly called San Diego outfielder Milton Bradley a "(expletive) piece of (expletive)." Such a suspension is deserved.
But to paint him as a rogue when people in uniform around the game – the Milledges, the Bradleys or the Ned Yosts, the Milwaukee Brewers manager who blames his team's inadequacies on bad calls – treat Winters' kind like second-class citizens? The double standard is ludicrous.
Umpires should act professionally. Winters did not. That is obvious. And yet, where is the expectation for players? They too, are grown men, ones with plenty more admirers than umpires. If Milledge is allowed to threaten an umpire and gets slapped with only a three-game suspension, it sends a mixed message to suspend Winters for five because he insulted a habitual malcontent.
Players are empowered by a union that appeals nearly every suspension successfully and MLB upper management in whom umpires have slowly lost faith. Granted, the umpires have some bad seeds – if Dan Iassogna lied, as the Mets' Marlon Anderson seems to allege about his suspension-causing blowup, that, as opposed to Winters', is a fireable offense – but quality is there. Winters is one of the good umpires, enough so to make the World Series crew last season.
According to someone with intimate knowledge of the incident, Bradley arrived at first base after hitting a single and immediately started questioning Winters about telling home-plate umpire Brian Runge that Bradley had flung his bat in Runge's direction earlier in the game. Bradley continued to yammer, the source said, until Winters told him to "shut the (expletive) up and play the game." Bradley, miffed, told Winters not to curse at him and to stop treating him like a piece of (expletive).
And, well … you can figure out the rest.
"And now, because of him," Bradley said, "my knee's hurt."
No, Bradley tore his ACL because his manager, Bud Black, tried to restrain him while he threw a temper tantrum. If being a moron were a crime, Bradley would be in jail on the three-strikes rule. The water-bottle-chucking incident. Calling a reporter "an Uncle Tom." The Winters fiasco. (Not to mention calling Jeff Kent racist, multiple driving maladies, feuding with Cleveland manager Eric Wedge and the three phone calls from his wife charging domestic violence.)
The harshness for Winters' suspension stems partly from Bradley blowing out his knee during the argument, and perhaps such karma helps Winters cope. Probably not. Especially when he knows that in MLB's world, the umpires – arbiters of the game and yet its scapegoats – wouldn't be allowed even that much.
• So, is it really a pennant race if none of the teams involved can even break the 90-win threshold?
Arizona leads the National League West with 88 victories and has lost three consecutive, leading San Diego by one game and Colorado by two. New York tops the East with 87 victories, though Philadelphia now sits just one game back after the Mets collapsed against Washington. And though Chicago, the NL Central's best at 83-75, holds the league's biggest advantage – two games – only because Milwaukee kept descending into its black hole.
A nice and succinct summation of the NL, through the perspective of New York, from George Vecsey: "How did it come to this? How did the entire Mets' season come to depend so much on a young pitcher, Philip Humber, who had never started in the major leagues until last night?"
• Just as good a race is for the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. Tampa Bay has the inside track with 93 losses. Two more would clinch it for the second consecutive season and third time in six years. Close behind are Baltimore (91 losses), Florida, Kansas City and Pittsburgh (90 each) and the Chicago White Sox (89).
• Barry Bonds played in his final home game as a Giant on Wednesday, and perhaps the final game of his career, as Henry Schulman writes. And a woman got arrested for hopping the fence and running toward Bonds.
Wonder if Morganna came out of retirement.
• Caption contest! OK, I'll start.
"Savor it now, rookie. So long as I'm around, the Bronx is a dry county in October."
• Thank you, Tracy Ringolsby, for a great insight into why the Rockies are contending following their current 10-game winning streak: With a fielding percentage entering Wednesday's games of .98932, the Rockies would break the record of .9891 set by Boston last season.
Also, for those who take issue with Tim Brown's choice of Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki as NL Rookie of the Year, a quick argument: Tulowitzki's WARP3, a metric that includes offensive and defensive production, is 10.3 – more than twice as high as Ryan Braun's 5.1, which is so low because his play at third base is beyond awful.
… AND FLY
If Mark Ecko, professional publicity harlot, really wanted to do the right thing with Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball, he would have donated it to the Hall of Fame before allowing the opinions of simpletons to deface one of baseball's great artifacts– whether all the home runs were legitimate or not.