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Premature Ejections
2004-09-13 01:41
by Mike Carminati

All human errors are impatience, a premature breaking off of methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue.
—Franz "Benny" Kafka

When I was in high school, I remember Darryl Dawkins, the Sixers powerful center famous for breaking backboards, getting called quite often for merely touching the player he was defending. It seemed whenever Double D dared to touch an opponent in the most incident way, he got whistled for a foul. It seemed to happen more often depending on how important the game was. Today players manhandle their opponents especially on offense and often it is overlooked by the refs. Shaquelle O'Neal nearly barrels over the defender but since it is his personal style hardly if ever gets called for the offense foul.

It is a matter of respect. Shaq's a suoerstar so he gets the calls. Dawkins was very good player for a time, but he was always seen more as a destroyer of backboards than finely nuanced performer.

Whatever the reason, it points to the inconsistency of the refereeing in the NBA. Whether a call is made is so extremely subjective, depending on the player, the home team, the ref, the TV audience, the importance of the game, and the point in the game that play occurs. You have to have a good feel for sarcasm to appreciate the game of basketball.

But baseball's supposed to be above that. Sure, balls and strikes can vary though the umps have become more consistent in the last couple of years, but all other calls should be cut and dried. There's no clock, no traveling, no three-second rule. Either someone catches the ball or not.

Yesterday, Billy Wagner was thrown out of a ballgame for throwing a couple of balls close to Cliff Floyd in a play that, on the surface, closely resembled Jorge Julio headhunting Augie Ojeda last Tuesday. Julio had just given up the go-ahead and eventual winning runs in the ninth on a Michael Cuddyer home run. The catcher set up outside but Julio's pitch was right at Ojeda's head. Julio was promptly ejected and has since been issued a suspension.

Wagner came in with a two-run lead and promptly relinquished it with a first-pitch, two-run single through the hole on the left side by Wilson Delgado. Wagner threw two pitches high and tight to Floyd and veteran ump Dana Demuth promptly ejected Wagner. The second came with the catcher setting up outside. Wagner was incensed, had to be physically removed from the field by teammates, and from the dugout threw his hat, a cooler, and a newspaper (The New York Times) on the field assuring that he will surely be fined. The Phils eventually won 11-9 in thirteen innings.

While Julio's pitch was an obvious attempt at revenge by a pitcher who had already lost the game. Wagner's pitches came with the winning run at first. Also, Wagner threw Floyd two fastballs and his fastball had had poor location the entire outing. His fastball was high and outside to all of the righthanders that he faced. Floyd, a lefty, got the same pitch in the same location except for him it ended up being high and tight. Besides Wagner's poor pitch location, he was clearly struggling the entire outing. The Mets were teeing off easily on him. Consider as well that this was the first batter than Wagner had hit all year. There was no logical reason for Wagner to be headhunting Floyd and a veteran ump (I think he was umpiring when I was a kid) like Demuth should have known that. Besides Wagner is a veteran who has no reputation as a headhunter and that should have been considered in the highly subjective call.

I don't know if the Julio ejection had anything to do with Wagner's ridiculously quick and unnecessary hook but it best it's another example of the umps making themselves bigger than the game. Yes, Wagner's behavior after the call merits some sort of censure. However, Demuth should be reprimanded for the poor call and for his hand in creating the situation. It's silly enough that umps can warn both benches when a player on one side has blatantly hit an opponent, highly questionable preemptive ejections should not be condoned.

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