As far as angry moments go, Ryan Howard was right up there last week when he was thrown out of a game by minor-league substitute umpire Scott Barry during the 14th inning of the Phillies’ loss to the Astros at Citizens Bank Park. In fact, just the sight of the 6-foot-4, 250-pound slugger running out onto the infield to confront Barry and his bad call is one that will be etched into some folks’ minds forever.
Think about it… Howard is as laidback and affable as they come. He’s living the good life and appreciates it. He likes to laugh and have fun and hit baseballs really, really far. What’s not to be happy about that?
But even the nicest guys can only be pushed so far. Barry blew the check-swing third strike call and then exacerbated the situation by tossing Howard out of the game for nothing more than displaying emotion. The ump did the same thing a few days before when he threw out the Nats’ Ryan Zimmerman from a game for being upset at himself for striking out. Get this—Zimmerman swung at a pitch, missed and was angry with himself so he chucked his bat and helmet. To Barry, apparently, this is a major offense.
But we never heard Barry’s side of things. We also never heard from umpire Greg Gibson, who made an undecipherable call against the Phillies in the opening game of the series, which directly lead to the Astros’ game-winning runs. If that wasn’t frustrating enough, the acting crew chief Sam Holbrook claimed there was a rule from Major League Baseball that prohibited the umps from speaking with the press.
Or maybe they just didn’t want to be held accountable. Clearly Jim Joyce, the umpire who blew the call in Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game in May, missed that memo.
Obviously there were times in the past where the umpire talked about a specific call in a game. However, upon looking back at one of baseball’s most famous incidents where a player ran to an umpire to confront him, curiously, there are no post-game comments from the game officials.
Oh yes, I’m talking about the Pine-Tar Game.
Remember that one? At Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, George Brett hit what appeared to be the go-ahead home run off the Yankees’ Goose Gossage with two outs in the ninth inning. However, citing a rule that was mostly used during the Deadball Era, Brett was called out because his bat had too much pine tar on it. When umpire Tim McClelland signaled that Brett was out, one of the all-time greatest freak outs in the history of sports occurred. Brett stormed out of the dugout with arms flailing and mouth running before being restrained just as he reached McClelland.
Here’s how it looked:
In the moment, McClelland’s call was correct because according to the way the rule was written (Rule 1.10b), a player cannot use a bat with a foreign substance more than 18 inches from the handle. However, as interpreted by American League president Lee MacPhail, the rule was put into the books because pine tar ruined baseballs at a time when they still retrieved them when they landed in the stands. In 1983, the pine-tar rule was antiquated almost the way certain laws to translate to modern times.
Nevertheless, it was tough to find any comments from McClelland about the incident in the direct aftermath or in the decades to follow. However, in a report from The New York Times on the 25th anniversary of the incident, McClelland was disappointed that the call was overturned.
“We’ve got to rule on the letter of the law, and the letter said that we should call him out,” McClelland said. “But if I’d have gone to Billy Martin and said, ‘Hey Billy, you’re right by the rules, but come on’ — who knows what Billy would have done?”
“When the rule was originally made, it was actually for the protection of the hitter, because if the pine tar would get on the ball, then the pitcher could grip the ball better and snap off curves and stuff like that,” McClelland said. “So, really, it’s kind of funny how the rule was made for the protection of the hitter, but the penalty was on the hitter.”
Long known for his unemotional demeanor, his slow and deliberate strike calls as well as a bunch of really poor calls, i.e. Matt Holliday scoring the winning run in the NL West tiebreaker in 2007 and the play in the 2009 ALCS where Nick Swisher was called out for leaving a base too early which came before the negated double play where two Yankees’ players arrived at third base at the same time and were tagged while not standing on the base.
McClelland spoke to the media after those calls, but not after the Pine-Tar game. As a rookie ump, crew chief Joe Brinkman handled the media, which is the common protocol. However, in Philadelphia when requests for comment were made to Gibson and Barry, those requests were denied.
Regardless, it’s tough to compare Brett’s freak out with Howard’s slow dash through the infield. Sure, having Howard angry with you is probably scarier than George Brett, and there was plenty of pointing, gesturing and the always dramatic, hold-me-back posturing, but it didn’t quite grab hold the same way. Perhaps in 1983 we weren’t used to seeing ballplayers charge after the umps. Maybe we’ve built up immunity to that kind of stuff with the proliferation of media. Needless to say, the scribes in the press box didn’t have Twitter to report the action as it unfolded in 1983, while Barry’s overreaction was well documented in the moment.
So maybe that’s why it was downplayed a bit nationally. Howard’s ejection was barely mentioned by The Associated Press or by the Houston media. Apparently it wasn’t a big deal…
Meanwhile, Howard had a conversation with Barry last Thursday when they were both working at first base. Barry, of course, couldn’t be reached for comment, and Howard only confirmed that he spoke to the ump.
At least for now, Howard wants to forget about the incident.
I've seen him mad before," manager Charlie Manuel said, "but never like that."
Brett, however, never stopped talking about his place in one of the more peculiar games ever played. In fact, a couple of years ago Brett said he gathers up his family and they sit down to watch daddy’s little freak out.
“I probably watch it at least once a year with my boys," Brett said during the 25th anniversary of the game. “They just want to watch the aftermath of when the umpire threw me out.”
Better yet, Brett said the Pint-Tar game helped people forget that he had hemorrhoid problems during the 1980 World Series against the Phillies. Because of that Brett went from being the hemorrhoid guy to the pine-tar man.
“Actually, when I ran out of the dugout I had no idea I looked like that. When I saw my reaction I said, ‘You've got to be (kidding) me,’ Brett remembered during the 25th anniversary. “That's the one at-bat you're remembered for and it was an at-bat in July. I never thought it would be that big a deal. Only in New York.”
So that’s what it was… maybe it would have been a bigger deal that Howard was ejected had it been a game against the Mets?