TWIR9: Why heckling the ump may not have the effect fans hope for

COMMENTARY — We look pretty stupid when we do it. It rarely has any effect on the game. In fact, doing it can actually create the opposite result of what we want. And yet, we can’t help ourselves.

After all, yelling at the umpire is the American way.

I was at a softball game a couple of weeks ago when I observed this event: The home team had a runner on second when a single was hit to left field. The runner rounded third and, with the third-base coach’s go sign, sprinted for home. The relay throw was a good one and the catcher snagged the ball at home and tagged the runner out. The tag was a little high, but with the plate blocked, the runner was clearly out.

One fan, perhaps the father of the base runner, jumped up and for about 10 seconds yelled that it was a bad call. And then, realizing he might be wrong, changed his strategy. “That’s dirty! The tag was too high! That’s a cheap shot!” the man yelled.

At this point, he had jumped forward and had grasped the chain-link fence of the backstop with both hands. He was, quite literally, 10 feet from the umpire.

“You’re an idiot! Can you not see that?! That’s dirty! Throw her out of the game!”

The tirade continued for a few more moments, then the game resumed and “Dad” sat down.

As I watched this all unfold, I couldn’t help but think about the four people directly involved in the event.

First, the catcher, who was being accused of intentionally slapping a high tag on an opponent. The “Dad” was alleging that she had somehow predetermined that if there was a play at home in the game, she was going to try to injure or hurt an opponent by blocking the plate with her legs and catcher’s gear while at the same time snagging a hot relay throw and purposefully applying a hard tag to the upper body of the base runner.

As she listened to the man scream out insults to the ump, she must have felt something — denial, embarrassment, righteous indignation? Or perhaps guilt, not from a “high” tag, but from the idea that a man her father’s age was calling her a dirty player or a thug.

What about the runner, presumably the man’s daughter? Did she think the play was dirty? Well, to her credit, she simply hopped up and headed to the dugout. But in softball, the dugouts are close, really close. And she heard every word of “Dad’s” tirade. Was she proud that her father jumped to her defense? Doubtful. Instead, she probably felt embarrassed. No one likes to be singled out in a situation like that, especially if you had just been thrown out at the plate, a no-no in baseball/softball anyway.

No. I don’t think “Dad” was making her proud.

How about the umpire? Most officials I know do the job for one major reason: They love sports. They want to be around the game and have found a way to make a little money while being involved in local athletics. None of them are perfect, but the ones I know defend the integrity of the sport they officiate with a zealousness that is required — and very little bias. Because they are constantly being rated and graded by fellow officials, the ones who are biased are usually weeded out pretty quickly.

This particular ump did the right thing — he never even acknowledged the loudmouth and kept the game running. I’m sure he’s used to the abuse, anyway. But in his mind, he was probably thinking the “Dad” was an idiot and maybe even played out a scenario in his mind in which he tossed the guy from the ballpark. But, to his credit, he ignored the guy.

As for the “Dad” himself, after the initial diatribe (and to his credit, at least he kept profanities out of it), he probably sat for a minute or two still fuming about the perceived injustice. And then I imagine self-awareness kicked in a little. Perhaps he asked himself if he really jumped on the fence like a chimpanzee and made a spectacle of himself. Or maybe he wondered if he could have handled the situation a little better (I don’t recall him going over to the dugout to check on his daughter).

Or perhaps not. Maybe we’ve grown so used to this confrontational fan behavior that we expect it. We certainly tolerate it, and that’s too bad.

As fans, we always see things through the eyes of our team. It’s hard to be objective when we feel so much passion for the team we love.

I could call for us to stop berating the umpires and referees. I could plea for civility and respect for the men in blue (or stripes, depending on the season). I could beg for us all to be objective and unbiased. But my petitions would go unheeded.

My only real plea is this: Think before you yell.

Insults don’t work. The game officials are not “out to get you.” Remember, everyone (including the players on both teams) can hear what’s being yelled. Don’t say anything in the heat of the moment that you wouldn’t say in calmer times. And never forget, you are not anonymous. Someone there knows who you are. They know which kid out on the field or court belongs to you. Someone at the game knows where you work and where you live.

And one last thing. If the coach doesn’t think it’s a controversial enough call to make a fuss, why in the world are you?

Here’s this week’s schedule:

BASEBALL

Tuesday
Dixie at Cedar, 4 p.m.
Canyon View at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
Des Hills at Snow Canyon, 7 p.m. (SportsRadio ESPN 106.1 FM)

Friday
Hurricane at Canyon View, 4 p.m.
Cedar at Dixie, 7 p.m. (SportsRadio ESPN 106.1 FM)
Snow Canyon at Desert Hills, 7 p.m.

SOCCER

Tuesday
Dixie at Cedar, 4 p.m.
Canyon View at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
Desert Hills at Snow Canyon, 7 p.m.

Friday
Dixie at Canyon View, 4 p.m.
Desert Hills at Pine View, 7 p.m.
Snow Canyon at Hurricane, 7 p.m.

SOFTBALL

Tuesday
Dixie at Desert Hills, 4 p.m.
Pine View at Canyon View, 4 p.m.
Snow Canyon at Hurricane, 4 p.m.

Thursday
Cedar at Pine View, 4 p.m.
Hurricane at Canyon View, 4 p.m.
Snow Canyon at Desert Hills, 4 p.m.

Friday
Dixie, Canyon View vs. TBD, at Bishop Gorman Tourney

Saturday
Dixie, Canyon View at Bishop Gorman Tourney
Pine View, Cedar, Enterprise at Payson Invitational

“This Week in Region 9″ is a weekly column written by Andy Griffin exploring the happenings in Region 9 at all sports venues. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

1 Comment

  • The train April 7, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    I hate to admit it, but I’m one of the many who is found guilty of this. I far too often let my mouth run before thinking. I think the hardest part is that here in southern utah, there are a handful of umps/refs who really aren’t out there for the right reasons. The other thing that is hard, is that the state does very little monitoring of their employees, and anyone who does report it, is considered a “complainer”. If I mess up, or do wrong, on purpose or not at my job, I get canned after 2 or 3 times. As a manager, I would like to know when my employees aren’t doing their jobs correctly. Its too bad that there is a negative connotation that goes along with reporting bad refs. Nonetheless we all (especially including myself) should take a breath and think about what we are going to say, before we say it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.