Across the Seams: Arguments and Ejections from an Umpire’s Perspective
Last summer, a video was released that showed Noah Syndergaard throwing a pitch behind Chase Utley, which led to an argument between Terry Collins and the umpire crew during a 2016 game between the Mets and the Dodgers. Most fans are familiar with this video. If you’re not, you can see it below. It’s pretty shocking. Most fans look at this from the player and manager perspective, and it’s very easy to get caught up in the emotional aspects of that argument. But, as a former umpire, I find myself paying attention to what the umpires do here. Too often, umpires are the forgotten men on a baseball field; my umpiring instructor once told us that the best day you ever have on a field is when nobody even knows you’re there. But today, we’re not dealing with a situation like that. We’re dealing with one where everyone in the entire stadium is watching. What I’d like to do is walk through the Terry Collins ejection video and everything that happens from an umpire’s perspective and also break down how umpires approach arguments and ejections as a whole.
As a reminder, here’s what happened the last time these two teams had faced each other. Chase Utley slid hard into second and broke Ruben Tejada‘s leg. That slide spurred a rule change that was referred to as the “Chase Utley rule,” but didn’t un-break Ruben Tejada’s leg, so it’s safe to say the Mets and Mets fans were still pretty upset and tensions were extraordinarily high. Here’s what happened next:
DISCLAIMER: The following video includes vulgar, adult language.
For reference, that’s Adam Hamari behind home plate and Tom Hallion, the crew chief, at first base.
If we watch carefully, we can see the umpiring crew, notably Hallion, take three distinct steps in handling the situation.
1. Prevent Immediate Chaos
The first thing Adam Hamari does is toss Noah Syndergaard immediately. This is 100% the right move. Given the situation, it’s obvious that Syndergaard was trying to hit Utley in retaliation for the slide. Besides the obvious location, it was a fastball. Were this a slider or change-up, an umpire would be more inclined to believe it was a mistake. But given the circumstances, there’s no doubt.
The first job of an umpire in this situation is to avoid a benches-clearing brawl. To do that, an umpire has to gain immediate control of the situation and the only way to do that is to immediately eject Syndergaard. If you don’t, the Dodgers take it upon themselves to punish either him or the Mets further.
The only arguable mistake that the umpire crew makes is failing to warn both benches prior to the game. In a situation like this, it’s imperative to give warnings before the game so nobody can debate whether an ejection is warranted. You can hear Syndergaard and Neil Walker arguing with Tom Hallion about that very fact around the 45-second mark. However, warnings are not required to issue ejections. Rule 9.01(d) clears states, “Each umpire has authority to disqualify any player, coach, manager or substitute for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language, and to eject such disqualified person from the playing field.” Hamari was under no obligation to warn the benches. All he needs is a subjective determination of unsportsmanlike conduct and this absolutely qualifies, so he did what he needed to do to control the situation.
It is often difficult to determine when a player needs to be ejected. There are different standards for conduct on the field and arguments, which I’ll cover later, but this is a clear instance where an ejection was required.
2. Divide the Arguments
Upon ejecting Syndergaard, Hamari makes three enemies in a matter of seconds: the pitcher (Syndergaard), the manager (Terry Collins) and the catcher (Rene Rivera), each of whom want to argue this call. You’ll notice that Rivera immediately begins arguing with Hamari and Syndergaard begins advancing towards him to do the same. This is where Hallion interjects. It’s the responsibility of the other umpires, particularly the crew chief, to step in and protect Hamari. The last thing you want as an umpire is to have three people surrounding you and yelling. That’s why Hamari needs his crewmates to step in and keep things separate. If you separate the arguments, they’re less likely to escalate because you avoid the echo chamber of anger.
Collins immediately leaves the dugout and has beef with the umpire who made the call. This makes sense, so Hallion lets Collins argue with Hamari while he intercepts Syndergaard. Even if Hallion disagrees with Hamari, there is a very tense situation on the field and he has to stand by his fellow umpire and support his call. Think of it like when one parent makes a snap decision about some form of punishment: the other parent has to stand by the decision to show unity and decisiveness, rather than undermining their partner. Hallion attempts to convey the rationale for ejecting Syndergaard through his colorful phrase “our ass is in the jackpot now.” A number of people have poked fun at it, but he’s just trying to keep everyone calm and explain that they are responsible for keeping the peace and if something goes haywire, it’s on the umpires.
The players keep calm though, and it becomes clear that Hallion does not need to do much to diffuse that situation, which is not surprising seeing as Syndergaard was the only one who actually played in that NLCS for the Mets (Rivera was in Tampa and Walker with Pittsburgh) and therefore the only one who would truly feel that anger towards Utley. It’s surprising that Syndergaard was not more upset, seeing as he lost his chance for retribution and didn’t actually hit the guy.
While that happens, Collins lays into Adam Hamari, which results in an off-screen ejection. If you’re watching, this happens right when the crowd roars at about the 55-second mark. As Hallion realizes the situation, he rightfully gets between Collins and Hamari. As I said, Hallion is the crew chief in this situation, which means safety and control of the field is ultimately in his hands. By the time Hallion gets there, Hamari has already ejected Collins. There is nothing positive that can come from further interaction between the two of them, which prompts Hallion to step in. As he does so, he instructs the second base umpire Phil Cuzzi to “take him,” meaning to take Hamari and get him out of here. Collins is mad, but his anger is primarily directed at Hamari who, in the last minute, has ejected both him and his ace starting pitcher, so if you take Hamari out of the situation, you’re more likely to diffuse Collins’ anger.
3. Deal with the Manager
Once the manager is already ejected, it’s a matter of calming him down. Nobody wants a Phil Wellman situation on their hands – Hallion just wants to get Collins back into the dugout so play can resume peacefully. That’s why as Collins continues to rain insults at Hamari, Hallion urges him to “talk to me” because he knows Collins isn’t as mad at him as he is at Hamari. Collins takes his anger out on Hallion, who defends himself briefly to keep the attention on himself, then Collins goes back into the dugout frustrated.
Hamari has the more difficult job of dealing with Collins from the get-go, which is to be expected. In order to control the chaos, you had to toss Syndergaard, but when you toss him, you anticipate his manager being even angrier than he is. As an umpire, you have to take a certain amount of anger from managers or, to a lesser extent, players.
When you’re at a game and a manager and umpire are arguing, you may wonder why the manager hasn’t been ejected yet, or it may feel like an ejection is always imminent, but ejecting a manager is far more about what they say than how they say it. A manager can speak negatively about your calls, your umpiring, your decisions, etc. all day and probably face no risk of ejection. However, the moment those insults become about the umpire instead of about the decisions they’ve made, that’s when you’re gone. I won’t repeat what Terry Collins said – you can go watch to it yourself – but that statement at the end to Hamari is what gets him tossed.
The decision to eject or not eject a player or a manager is incredibly subjective. The umpire has to weigh the specifics of the situation at hand before determining the proper course of action. The umpires need this Dodgers-Mets feud to end right here, right now. If they chose not to eject Syndergaard, there is no denying that either Utley would’ve been thrown at again or a Mets hitter would’ve been thrown at. Either of these events would’ve ended in a brawl. So really, Syndergaard gave Hamari no choice.
This was one of the most flawless displays of handling a tense on-field situation you’ll see from an umpiring crew. Hallion, though he’s admittedly not the best arguer, understands his role and acts decisively. Though umpires may feel like a secondary part of the game we all love, it’s worth watching them a little bit closer. If you’ve never umpired and you have time, reach out to your local little league and try it. It’s harder than you think, but it’s very rewarding, as you’ll begin to see the game from a whole new perspective and maybe you’ll gain a little bit more appreciation for the brilliant work done by Adam Hamari and Tom Hallion.
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)