Lou Piniella's going ballistic, Kenny Rogers is getting in a snit with a cameraman, Larry Brown is leaving a coaching job, the New York Yankees are in first place.
If ever there was a dog bites man day in the world of sports, Monday was it.
Piniella went wild over a crazy call by the umpires that went against his Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The really crazy thing about the whole thing was that Piniella, red-faced, bareheaded -- his hat tossed across the diamond in anger -- wild-eyed, was absolutely justified.
A bad call is a bad call. These things happen and you live with them, preferably without smoke coming out of the top of your head 30 times a year. But this was a whole nother animal.
Here's what happened. The Rays were leading 3-1 in the top of the ninth with two outs and Carl Crawford at third. Julio Lugo hit a grounder to John Olerud at first. Olerud threw to pitcher Curt Schilling, covering, and it was a bang-bang play. First-base umpire Dana Demuth called Lugo safe, the run scoring and the Rays getting a big insurance run, 4-1.
Schilling argued, as did manager Terry Francona. Schilling may have even bumped Demuth, which is a no-no. Eventually the umps got together and talked it over, something they do these days in an effort to get the call right.
Sometimes, as in Game 6 of the 2004 A.L. Championship Series last year, when two reversed calls went the Red Sox's way, this is the right thing to do.
This wasn't one of those times.
After the long kaffeeklatsch, the umps decided that Lugo had been out after all. The inning was over and it was still 3-1. Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz, 90 feet away from the play and not charged with making the call, said he'd seen that Schilling's foot hit the bag. Demuth, maybe two steps from the base, had thought Schilling missed the bag, but he asked Diaz for his opinion.
Piniella roared out of the dugout as if shot from a cannon, and the rest was pretty standard-issue Sweet Lou stuff, except that for a change you really couldn't blame him.
"Dana Demuth, he's six feet away from the bag, and then you've got a home-plate umpire who's 90 feet away and sees it better than the guy at first base," Piniella said after the game. He wondered where this overruling stuff would end.
"Did the guy at second base see if it was on the outside corner when the home-plate umpire thought it was three inches outside?" he said. "You've got one base to call. Make the call and stand by it."
It didn't matter. Dannys Baez pitched a perfect ninth and Tampa Bay won the game, a result that, combined with the Yankees' 11-10 win at Texas, moved the Yankees into first place in the A.L. East, where they haven't been since the season's opening days, but where they've finished each of the last 400 years.
And while I don't agree with Piniella completely -- I think consultations are sometimes in the game's best interest -- I think he was right Monday night.
I don't think umpires should be consulting on bang-bang calls. There's no way the home-plate umpire had a good view from 90 feet away. On the replays, it looked like Diaz was right that Schilling's foot hit the bag. It also looked like Lugo's foot hit the bag first. He was safe. It may have been for the wrong reason, but Demuth got the call right in the first place.
If there's something indisputable that the umpire making a call missed, or if there's a rule that's not being applied correctly, then the other umps should speak up and fix it.
That's what happened in the playoffs last year, twice. First came Mark Bellhorn's home run, which umpire Jim Joyce called in play because he'd missed it hitting a fan in the front row, which other umps saw. Then there was the famous play when Alex Rodriguez slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove on a play at first base. A-Rod was originally called safe, but after a meeting he was correctly called out because that slap was illegal.
But on quicker-than-the-eye stuff, Piniella's right: Make the call and stand by it. Umpires shouldn't be debating these plays.
Reacting to what happens and making the call immediately is the umps' best bet to get the call right on a play like the one Monday night. Once they start talking it over, reviewing it in their minds, they're asking for trouble. Minds play tricks.
Without instant replay -- and please, let's not ever have instant replay -- there's no way to know who's right, so it just comes down to which umpire is the biggest alpha dog, insists the loudest that the way he saw it was the way it happened.
Laz Diaz, just to pick a name out of a hat, is neither a shrinking violet nor a particularly good umpire. See the problem?
Arguing with umpires has always been kind of a quixotic thing. The call has been made, it's going to stand, and all of the screaming and dirt-kicking in the world won't change that. Arguing has been more of an investment than anything. If a manager doesn't speak up, the thinking has gone, the umps will walk all over him, and his players will resent him for being passive. Arguing won't get this call overturned, but it might get you the next one.
But in this new era of consultations, arguing can pay off right away. The umps only have meetings when a call is disputed. Monday's confab came only after Schilling and Francona argued.
So here's my advice to Piniella: Be proactive! When a call goes your way, don't let the other team take the play from you by arguing. You love charging out of the dugout, so get out there and rant and rave over what a great call it was.
Throw your hat -- in the air! Woohoo! -- jump up and down, wave your arms. "Dana, baby, that was a hell of a call! Hell of a call! Oh, man, most umps would have missed that one. Every minor league umpire I've ever met would have blown that and called my guy out -- and just between you and me, some of these bozos up here would have too -- but not you! You really showed something there, pal.
"Oh, hey, here comes Francona. Stick to your guns now, Dana. You were right there."
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Unlucky Rogers: Outburst filmed again! [PERMALINK]
I have some advice for Kenny Rogers too, as long as I'm handing out advice: Stop getting in fights with TV cameramen.
Rogers, in the process of turning himself in on an assault charge stemming from a dust-up with a cameraman that he said was out of character and would never happen again, got in a dust-up with a cameraman.
Never ain't what it used to be.
I'm reminded of Mark Twain's supposed advice not to pick fights with people who buy their ink by the barrel. Every time Rogers acts like a jerk toward a TV cameraman, the incident is -- darn the luck -- caught on tape!
Rogers was being fingerprinted at the county jail in Arlington, Texas, when he turned to a cameraman from WFAA and said, "You're getting really close, you know that?" Not getting a reply, he said, "Do you hear me?"
I don't know how close the cameraman, Mike Zukerman, was at the time Rogers started talking, but he was far enough away that Rogers' body was in the frame down to about his hips. So it's not like the camera was intruding into what anyone could reasonably call Rogers' "personal space."
But apparently for Rogers, the whole world is his personal space. Do you believe the nerve of this guy? He's a public figure in a public space -- just as he was on the field at the ballpark when he attacked the first cameraman last month -- and he thinks he has the right to dictate who can take pictures. Here's a short course on the legality and ethics of the situation for those unfamiliar: He doesn't.
This next piece of advice goes not just to Rogers but to all celebrities: If you don't like being a public figure who gets his picture taken doing embarrassing things, your choices are A) stop being a public figure or B) stop doing embarrassing things. "Get that camera away from me" is really not an option.
"Just my job, Kenny," Zukerman finally said.
"Yeah," Rogers said. "Your job. That's just your excuse."
Right, Kenny. If it wasn't Zukerman's job to film your sorry ass getting fingerprinted on an assault charge stemming from your complete lack of regard for other people, he'd just be there on his own.
Rogers is 40 years old. He's been in the big leagues since 1989. He was well on his way to being remembered, if he were going to be remembered at all, as a pretty good pitcher who bounced around to various teams, had some nice years, lasted a long time and had the same name as a famous singer. Kind of like if Kevin Appier had been named Merle Haggard.
In the space of three weeks, he's changed that forever. Now if he's remembered, it'll be as a graduate of the Sean Penn School of Media Relations.
Once more, Kenny: The red light means they're filming. Try not to be yourself.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Larry Brown plays it perfectly [PERMALINK]
Larry Brown is being himself again, coming to the end of yet another coaching tenure, this time after two years. It looks like he'll get to continue his quest to coach every basketball team in the Western world.
The thing that's notable this time is that Brown is playing the Detroit Pistons like a violin. He followed his usual M.O. of playing footsie with other teams while engaged in a championship chase, but this whole health gambit is a stroke of genius.
He's played it so well, the Pistons are actually negotiating a deal by which they'll pay him to do the thing he most likes to do: Quit.
Brown, who has been struggling with a bladder problem that's a complication from hip-replacement surgery, has been saying for months that if he's healthy enough, he wants to coach the Pistons next year. Brown's stated desire to coach in Detroit next year has been believed by precisely no one.
Brown flirted with the Cleveland Cavaliers over their top front-office job, and is now known to be the favored candidate to coach the hapless New York Knicks, who don't have the cap space to sign good players, so hiring a big-name coach is the only thing they can do to make it look like they're doing something.
All of this has cheesed off mild-mannered Pistons owner Bill Davidson, who apparently wants Brown gone. But Brown, having said all along that he wants to stay, can say, "A contract is a contract." He's two years into a five-year deal that stands as a testament to either the Pistons' optimism or their stupidity.
Brown's story is that he's being forced out, but if the Pistons want him to go, he'll go, as long as they take care of him.
So the negotiation is over how much money the Pistons will pay Brown, and in return how long Brown will be prevented from coaching another team. The betting is that Brown will be coaching the Knicks, his hometown team, by the start of the 2006-07 season, if not before.
Stay tuned. And check back in 2009. Brown, denying it all the way, will be on the move again. But he'll have to go some to top this one.
Previous column: The BALCO plea deals
- - - - - - - - - - - -