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Now that a few hours have passed since the Nationals lost their fourth straight game, I can say via the benefit of a great meal and a power nap that the team has nothing to worry about losing four in a row.
But they do have something to be concerned about with umpiring crews.
First, the losing streak. Anyone with an ounce of common sense (which we as sports fans are not exactly known for) realizes that unless you go oh-for-April, losing early in the season doesn’t matter. The Nats will be just fine. The only thing that does give me pause is the fact the Nats looked unbeatable the first four games of the season, then turned on a dime and saw their bats fall asleep as they lost four straight.
In a best-of-7 series, avoiding the snoozing-bats-for-4-game syndrome is something Nats teams have not been able to accomplish in their playoff appearances of the past 6 years, so every time it happens, I do find myself thinking “aren’t we past this yet?” But as previously stated, there is plenty of time to figure this out, and better to have slumbering bats in April than October.
Now, to the umpiring. Yes, it was a terrible call on Anthony Rendon. Yes, Major League Baseball should discipline umpire Marty Foster for throwing Rendon out of the game despite Rendon not saying a word and only dropping his bat in frustration. No, that will not happen in a million years.
Which is the cause for concern.
In all my years of watching sports, I’ve never seen a stronger group than the umpire’s union in baseball. They just will not be disciplined. They will not be shown up. And they do not forget.
It’s like fighting the Homeowner’s Association. You’re not going to win, and if you complain too hard one year, they’ll just ding you twice as much the next year. Baseball umpires protect their own, and in a game where calls are as subjective as what’s a ball and what’s a strike, they can and do get even.
It’s nice to talk about how much respect the players have for Dave Martinez going out on the field and having Rendon’s back by throwing a tantrum, but Martinez is a rookie manager. He has not earned the standing to go face to face like that with an umpire like, say, a Dusty Baker would. The calls will be subtle, but do not be surprised if over the next month the umps make sure Martinez understands who is in charge.
And Rendon? Watch how many times he’s left standing at the plate on a called strike that doesn’t look close over the next few weeks.
I’m not saying any of this is right. Or fair. Or even legal.
But as the noted philosopher Tony Soprano once said, “this is the life we have chosen.” This is realistically what happens in Major League Baseball. And it’s been this way since Abner Doubleday invented the game back in 1839. Making a big deal about this only creates an environment where you may win the battle, but you will lose the war.
It’s why all the great professional athletes learn to just walk away and not say a word no matter how horrible the call. They realize those same guys everybody right now is ripping in newspapers, radio, television and social media will be calling the next game. And the one afterward. And the one after that.
You can hope baseball will do something about what happened today. But the smart play is to just quietly walk away…and live to fight another day.