Boswell: Bryce Harper ejection was mostly umpire’s fault

May 6, 2013
(Gene J. Puskar, AP)
(Gene J. Puskar, AP)

In his online chat today, a reader asked columnist Thomas Boswell what he thought about umpire John Hirschbeck’s actions when he ejected Bryce Harper for his response to a check-swing third strike in the first inning of Sunday’s game against the Pirates.

Q: Forget what you think that Harper’s reaction to the call, Hirshbeck’s ejection and subsequent comments are unacceptable. Its fairly clear that he escalated the confrontation and it seems as if Hirshbeck was trying to enforce some unwritten baseball code that was being violated by the too-brash, too-young too-good Harper. There isn’t a question in my mind that the same set of circumstances with a different hitter, say Adam Laroche, doesn’t lead to an ejection. Hirshbeck should be fined and suspended. But he won’t be…

A: That’s 90% Hirshbeck’s fault. Maybe more.

That’s almost as bad as Tom Haller being miked up so he could trap Earl Weaver into a 1st inning tirade to make Weaver look like a fool on TV. That was an out-and-out made-for-TV trap. But this was a short-fuse umpire TRYING to provoke a 20-year-old player. Hirshbeck threw up his arms a split second after he called the checked swing strike, almost before he could see Harper’s reaction at the plate __which wasn’t very bad. Then Hirshbeck walked straight at him, yelling, challenging him to do anything so he could throw him out. By the time he’d been heaved Harper still didn’t seem to have done much of anything except one arms-above-head with bat in hands gesture which sounds worse than it looked.

Bryce Harper plays the game the right way. John Hirchbeck umpires the game the wrong way.

Hirshbeck deserves some symbolic disciplinary action by MLB even if it is only a small fine.

Also, Hirshbeck’s post-game comments misrepresent what the tape clearly shows __that he was far more the cause of the problem than Harper and that he was NOT trying to give the kid a break and keep him in the game. Just the opposite. He was looking to throw him out. I’ve seen no pattern of Harper showing up umpires this season. Maybe I’m missing something but I doubt it very much.

Yes, I was at the Hirshbeck-Robby Alomar game. Alomar was hugely at fault, but Hirshbeck has a history of making people go crazy. Harper DIDN’T.

BTW, I was on a weekend trip to play golf with my son and I didn’t see the game live. I read about it, plus the quotes. I expected Harper to be at fault __from the descriptions and from my, incorrect, assumption that the 20-year-old would be the immature one and the veteran umpire mature. When I saw it, I said, “Hirshbeck was just gunning to heave him.” I was pretty close to amazed.

Harper, whether he was only slightly wrong or not should be on his best behavior for a month. If I assumed he was more to blame than Hirshbeck then umps made be inclined to assume that, too. But, in the age of tape, maybe they’ll see it all a dozen times. If they do, maybe a couple of the good umps can say, “Don ‘t judge us all by him.”

I’m almost always on the ump’s side. I’d like to see more camera angles to see if Harper did anything else. But I doubt it. The “visual evidence” sure seems clear.

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Adam Kilgore · May 6, 2013

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