Umpire Paul Nauert appeared to be trying to diffuse a tense situation Monday night by lightly — very lightly — patting the face of Torii Hunter of the Detroit Tigers during a bench-clearing incident with the Baltimore Orioles. In the moment, Hunter acted like he didn't appreciate being touched. Afterward, he said was OK with it, and he even apologized for his part in the squabble.
Regardless, any time an ump touches a player, or the other way around, Major League Baseball is going to look into it. The Detroit News reports that MLB will investigate what happened.
Nauert briefly put a hand on Hunter’s face, something Hunter appeared to take exception to. Players are suspended when they touch umpires, so players don’t look kindly on umpires touching them.
“That’s my guy,” Hunter said of Nauert. “He was trying to cover my mouth. I’ve known him too long (to be upset). He was just saying to me, ‘C’mon, T. You’re way better than that.’ And he’s right. “I apologize to the fans for my reaction.”
Hunter was upset after getting drilled in the ribs with a pitch by Norris, who was ejected by home plate umpire James Hoye. One pitch earlier, Ian Kinsler had hit a two-run homer to extend Detroit's lead. No matter what Norris's intent was with Hunter, hitting him looked suspicious.
Hunter and Norris jawed as Hunter walked to first base (by way of the pitcher's mound) and benches cleared. No punches were thrown on either side but, by the time Norris left the field a few minutes later, Hunter was still mad with him, and they picked up with the jawing again. For anyone wondering why Hunter was upset, he offered this suggestion during the postgame interviews:
"I want all of the people out there to get in front of a pitching machine, put it on 94 (mph) and just hold your ribs us and just take one. See how that turns out for you."
No, thank you.
Back on the field, Nauert was trying to help restore order by getting Hunter's attention. Touching a player — other than trying to hold him back during a brawl — is an unconventional way of doing it. The News noted an incident in 2009 that set off Tigers skipper Jim Leyland when umpire Paul Schreiber grabbed Magglio Ordoñez to "usher" him away from home plate after he got tired of hearing Ordoñez complain about a call.
Leyland was ejected in classic fashion and Schreiber apologized the next day.
Hunter probably doesn't want or need an apology, and MLB probably won't discipline Nauert, but he would be advised to pick which players he touches carefully. Hunter was mad like a hornet against the Orioles, and what if he had reflexively shoved Nauert away? It could have been a big mess.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly included the word "defuse"]
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