Marty Foster’s ejection of Anthony Rendon Saturday was puzzling enough that it immediately overshadowed the circumstances of the pitch that caused the conflict. Let’s get to that: it looked inside to Rendon; it looked inside on the broadcast; it, in fact, was inside—Foster’s strike zone was a little wide, and Mets pitchers successfully stretched the right side of the plate:
But arguing balls and strikes is ultimately not what got Rendon ejected—players object to strikes on the corner all the time, and aren’t ejected for it. Umpire crew chief Joe West, per Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports, said Rendon was ejected for the lame old sin of bruising another man’s ego:
“When [Foster] called strike three, [Rendon] threw the bat,” West said. “You have some options there, and Marty felt that what he did was showing him up worse than an equipment violation would have been, and that’s why he ejected him. You have to do something, or he loses all respect from the players. I understand that he could have (not done anything), but he chose that this was the penalty for what he did. So it was more involved than just strikeout, throwing equipment.”
The notion that the home plate umpire would lose “all respect from players” for looking the other way when a player drops his bat with a little force is absurd—demonstrations with this level of intensity happen half a dozen times per game, mostly without anyone ever getting ejected. But what’s most interesting to me about West’s explanation is the depiction of the interpersonal dynamics on a baseball diamond: You can apparently be pretty bad at your job but respected so long as you are sufficiently authoritarian about it—players who would be inclined towards not respecting Foster because of his busted strike zone will instead view him with respect because of how sensitive he is to non-confrontational insults. That’s wild! And maybe it’s true! I hate to think that it’s true, but I guess he’d know better than I would.
For Rendon’s part, the real problem has to do with accountability, not just for temperamental behavior, but for, you know, having a shitty strike zone:
“I was just as surprised as all y’all were. I’m pretty sure y’all saw the replay. I don’t think my mouth even opened to chew gum. So, it’s pretty funny, it’s comical to say the least. But he had a vendetta over me, or something.
He had said that I flipped the bat on him. It’s pretty frustrating, to say the least. Especially when you’re taking at-bats away from guys, and it’s just terrible because, if you’re a younger guy and you’re trying to stay in the league, and you have these strikeouts, the team doesn’t look at called strikes on umpires. And so they’re immediately just gonna say ‘oh you struck out five, six times out of the last 10,’ and they’re gonna send you down. But for umpires it doesn’t look like they’re gonna get sent down. You know, they don’t get cut, they don’t get benched, they don’t get sent down to tripe-A, whatever it might be.
And we have video of all the called strikes, whatever pitch that it might be, ball or strike. And none of these balls are on the plate. You know, we have video of the overhead view, and right behind the pitcher’s mound, and it’s just sad that there’s no accountability for them.”
Rendon is an affable, easygoing guy—though this was not, in fact, his first career ejection, it was only his second—and he was ejected for “showing up” the umpire in a quiet, non-verbal way that could not possibly have disrupted the flow of the baseball game even a tiny fraction as much as the event of his ejection ultimately did. It’s an example of an umpire protecting his sensitive ego at the expense of the game he’s meant to officiate, when it would’ve required nothing other than maturity, and cost him nothing that isn’t imaginary, to look the other way. If umpires are subject to accountability, it should be for acting like just this sort of big diaper baby.