This part of the "General Instructions To Umpires" that appears in MLB Rule 9 has been quoted on this site before, but this morning it bears repeating:
You are the only official representative of baseball on the ball field. It is often a trying position which requires the exercise of much patience and good judgment, but do not forget that the first essential in working out of a bad situation is to keep your own temper and self-control.
Many major league umpires seem to have forgotten that simple rule. It's a rule of courtesy and professionalism, more so than an "instruction". Instead, umpires seem to go out of their way to be confrontational; the Cubs have been involved in several incidents with umpires already this season. The players involved -- Milton Bradley, Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano -- are not blameless, certainly; but all three incidents could have wound up with different resolutions had the umpires simply walked away, at least until a coach or Lou Piniella could have come out of the dugout and helped defuse the situation. Does it seem to you as if Lou doesn't get out of his seat as fast as he used to? In an incident like yesterday's, the manager or a coach has to be in the player's face right away to help prevent things from escalating.
It's as if the umpires want to head home and watch themselves on "Baseball Tonight" or the MLB Network. Umpires are best when fans and players go home from the game and don't even think about them. They should be invisible, simply making their best decisions. Granted, some close calls are going to go against one team or another and arguments, like yesterday's, are going to ensue. When that happens the umpire has the responsibility to not allow the situation to escalate.
Mark Carlson failed in that responsibility yesterday. The video replays are clear. Carlson turned his arm into Carlos Zambrano almost as if to say, "I don't like what you're doing and so I'm going to initiate contact so I can file a report that will get you suspended." That's what set Z off -- I can't read lips, but if any of you can, take a look at the video. It appeared that Z said to him, "YOU touched ME -- I'm going to throw YOU out of the game!"
As Cubs fans, we don't see many of the close calls that involve other teams, so I can't say how many similar incidents there have been in recent years. We all did hear, though, about the incident involving umpire Paul Schrieber and the Tigers' Magglio Ordonez in which Schrieber put his arm on Ordonez after calling him out on strikes and Mags argued. Ordonez was at no time combative, as you can see in this video:
Schrieber was forced to apologize. This would have been a perfect opportunity for someone, anyone (I wouldn't expect the feckless Bud Selig to do it) in the commissioner's office to stand up and say that they weren't going to tolerate bad umpire behavior any more. They did so in the incident involving Bradley and umpire Mike Winters two years ago after which Winters was suspended for "escalating the situation". It seems to me that Mark Carlson "escalated" yesterday's "situation" by deliberately bumping Z so that he could file a report recommending a suspension. Even though Z himself admitted he shouldn't have done what he did:
"I apologize to [Carlson]," he said. "After he kicked me out, I should've gone to the clubhouse and kept watching the game."
... I believe the incident was made worse by Carlson. The last sentence of the "General Instructions To Umpires" linked above says:
Finally, be courteous, impartial and firm, and so compel respect from all.
Was Carlson firm? Yes. Was he courteous and impartial? I think not. This is a good moment for baseball to get umpires back on that path. Let's hope they take the opportunity.