Too much bad blood in MLB

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jon Rauch is restrained by catcher J.P. Arencibia and manager John...

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jon Rauch is restrained by catcher J.P. Arencibia and manager John Farrell (R) during an argument with home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez during the ninth inning of their MLB American League baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Toronto July 2, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Some things just don’t go together. The Hatfields and the McCoys, cats and dogs, Edwin Encarnacion and a baseball glove — or, pretty much any major league manager and an umpire.

From Casey Stengel to Earl Weaver, Cito Gaston and now John Farrell, it has been ever thus.

Gaston and umpire Joe Brinkman had a simmering feud through the late 1980s and into the ’90s that stemmed from a book by Toronto catcher Ernie Whitt. In it, Whitt called Brinkman incompetent.

After that, the Jays never figured they got a break when Brinkman was around. Somewhere, there is still a classic photo of Cito jabbing the air at Brinkman’s face. Even after Whitt retired, Gaston would grumble during dugout press briefings with reporters that Brinkman once again was giving the Jays the wrong end of the stick. And, that was before the game even started.

Weaver, hat turned backward so he could get eye-to-eye with his adversary before the shouting started, had umpire baiting down to a science and got thrown out 97 times during his Hall of Fame career.

During one tirade, Weaver headed to the dugout screaming: “I’m going to check the rulebook on that.” To which the umpire replied: “Here, use mine.” Weaver then shot back: “That’s no good. I can’t read Braille.”

This week, Farrell ripped the jersey off a berserk Jon Rauch to keep the reliever away from the plate ump, then himself got tossed for arguing balls and strikes. A couple of nights later, umpire Brian Knight called Encarnacion out at the plate with what would’ve been the tying run in the ninth. Fair enough, until everyone looked at the replay and saw that Encarnacion, as he’d complained all along, was actually safe.

When the umpires, in neither case, explained their calls to the media, the managers involved, or made a public statement about the controversies, Farrell questioned their accountability.

He’s right. When a play is controversial, umpires should be made to give an explanation of their call. Some do. But there is no league rule that says they have to open their mouth or door to the umpires room and offer an explanation. That’s just wrong. Players and managers face daily scrutiny by the media. Why not umpires? The public and the participants have a right to know why an umpire made a certain decision.

Many of these arguments could be solved by replay, although baseball, unlike other sports, is still living in the Dark Ages on that idea.

When it comes to having trouble with the boss, the Jays aren’t alone. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said this week that friction between umpires and teams is becoming a problem. Leyland said something needs to be done to improve relations between the sides after he was among three ejections in a Tigers-Angels game.

“We have to work harder to eliminate some of the tension,” Leyland said. “You can feel it. That’s just not a good situation. That usually causes blowups.

“The tension level is much more than it should be, between managers, players, coaches, umpires,” he said. “I’m not criticizing anybody,” Leyland said. “I’m making the point that we all need to work together to resolve this situation, because it’s getting out of hand.”

QUICK HITS

The Cardinals are interested in Padres closer Heath Bell but not interested in San Diego’s asking price ... With Jose Contreras, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson on the disabled list the Phillies are unexpectedly in the market for bullpen help ... It was moving day for Joe Mauer. The four-time all-star catcher, made his first major-league appearance at first base after 863 games Thursday, handling several chances flawlessly. “I’m glad it’s over with,” said Mauer. “I was nervous, kind of felt like it was my first big-league game again” ... In 15 seasons as a manager with four teams, Davey Johnson had never, by his own recollection, called a suicide squeeze. On Wednesday, he had Wilson Ramos drop a successful bunt, allowing Mike Morse to cross the plate with the winning run. But, then, when you’re managing the Washington Nationals it’s not like you’ve got anything to lose. Right? ... Slumping Mike Stanton visited an ophthalmologist Wednesday and received eye drops for an infection. That night he slammed a walk-off home run. Not sure what was in the medicine. Something about: “Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat.” ... The Yankees are reportedly interested in reliever Sean Burnett. But then, if it walks, talks and plays baseball, who aren’t the Yankees “reported” to be interested in?

HEALING LIKE A PHENOM

Stephen Strasburg has been a freak of baseball nature since he was knee high to a pitching machine.

So, guess there’s no surprise that the Washington Nationals’ pitching phenom is setting medical records in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Nationals pitching co-ordinator Spin Williams watched Strasburg throw a 30-pitch bullpen session a couple days ago, and “I was quite amazed that he was throwing that well,” Williams told the Washington Post. “He commanded well. His mechanics were clean. I was extremely happy.”

Strasburg threw at “full effort”, Williams said. “Not that anyone throws 100% during a sideline. But he got after it pretty good.”

Strasburg’s surgery was performed last Sept. 3 and it normally takes a year or more for pitchers to step back on a mound. Strasburg is already there and — unless he trips over his cape or someone slips him a kryptonite shake — now is on schedule to make a minor league start by mid-August.

CAVEAT EMPTY

Baseball free agents should come with a “buyer beware” sticker.

Players often take some time to find their stride when they change area codes. New league. New pitchers. New pressures to prove themselves worthy. It can all build up into a big nothing.

This season’s free agents are producing a record crop of horse apples. Look at the worst hitters with more than 225 at-bats and it is littered with high-priced free agents.

Among the worst hitters through the first half of the season are Dan Uggla, Jayson Werth and former Blue Jay John Buck. Carl Crawford was supposed to be the prize pick for $142 million US. Instead, he is hitting .243 for the Red Sox and has been booed at home.

Uggla homered in two consecutive games for the Braves this week. He reached base in nine of 10 games but all that did was bring his average up to .183.

“This is such a funny game,” Uggla told reporters. And the funniest thing is the Braves are paying him $62 million over the next five years. Except nobody including Uggla, are laughing.

Buck is signed for the next three years at $18 million. He’s batting .213. And Werth, on a .155 run this week, makes about $30,000 per at-bat for the Nationals.

But nobody has bought misery like Adam Dunn of the White Sox, who batted just .136 in June to see his season numbers dip to .171 including a league-leading 100 strikeouts.

How bad has he been? The home fans are even getting too bored to boo anymore. The White Sox have tried a team psychologist, minor league pitchers flown in to throw game-speed practice pitches, five different spots in the batting order.

The result? Dunn is hitting .019 against left-handers, .075 with two strikes, and he couldn’t score if Paris Hilton spotted him second base.

BUCS BUCK TREND

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been bad so long, chances are they wouldn’t recognize a pennant race if they were in one.

They haven’t had a winning season since 1992 and haven’t won even 70 games in a season since 2004.

But with Andrew McCutchen leading the upsurge, there were the Pirates this week, just one game out of first place. They have already won series against the Phillies, Cardinals and D-backs, and they have beaten the Reds five out of six.

Pirates’ management has spent the past two decades alienating fans and trading away its stars so former owner Kevin McClatchy could make a profit. But now, finally, unexpectedly, they have a chance to bring some of those fans back by spending some money at the trade deadline.

Assuming that is, current owner Robert Nutting is a little more committed to winning than he is to making a buck.

HEY, THEY TRIED!

National League all-star team manager Bruce Bochy is hearing some all-star calibre bitching.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle complained publicly that Andrew McCutchen wasn’t selected. Jack McKeon also got on Bochy for failing to pick Marlins’ hurler Anibal Sanchez.

Bochy? He’s suggesting McKeon and Hurdle should’ve lobbied to get their stars on the team. “I heard from a lot of managers but the two that are complaining,” said Bochy, “I’ve known them 25 years. I didn’t hear from them.”

Gotta wonder how much of this is window-dressing. Betting is there’ll be smiles and chuckles when next they meet. In the meantime, they can tell their players how they went to bat for them.

FLAT-OUT NON-EFFORT

Everyone makes mistakes. Even major league all-stars.

Starlin Castro, the Cubs’ 21-year- old shortstop sensation, was named an all-star — and slothful — within a week.

Manager Mike Quade called him out for lack of hustle when Castro dove for a grounder but couldn’t make the play. When he stayed on the ground while centre fielder Reed Johnson ran in to pick up the ball, it allowed Royals’ Alex Gordon to motor all the way to second base with an RBI double.

“It better not happen again, and he knows it,” Quade told reporters after the game. “He just gets frustrated. He wants to make the play. He doesn’t make the play, and then just has a letdown.”

Fortunately becoming the youngest all-star in Cubs history is a nice pick-me-up.


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