TORONTO – The conversation between Jose Bautista and home-plate umpire Bill Welke after the Toronto Blue Jays slugger was called out looking Sunday pretty much went down like this:
Bautista: "They were both down. They were both down. It’s a one-run game."
Welke: "You gotta go."
Bautista: "I’m not cursing you."
Welke then ejects the all-star right-fielder.
Bautista: "What did I say? What did I say? What did I say?"
Little wonder then that Bautista stood his ground Monday, repeating that he was calm, polite and didn’t curse in his post-strikeout conversation with Welke. The exchange, reconstructed from various online feeds and audio, appears to prove just that.
"I don’t think what I did warranted an ejection," Bautista told reporters.
He recalled the discussion this way: "I said something, he said something, I started turning around, he said something else, and at that point I think he said, ‘You better go to the dugout,’ I didn’t know if he was done talking or not, I turned around to look at him, at what he was saying, and just by turning around, I was gone."
As for Welke’s thoughts, who knows, but an interesting element to consider when apportioning blame here is that there’s some history between him and Bautista.
On Aug. 26, 2011 in Toronto, Welke was behind the plate for another game between the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, and called a second strike in Bautista’s third at-bat that he didn’t like. A few pitches later Bautista struck out for the third time against James Shields, and when he returned to the dugout began smashing the wall with his bat and cursed out, earning an ejection from Welke. Once tossed, Bautista proceeded to throw his bat, helmet, elbow pads and other accoutrements onto the field.
Might that previous incident have lessened Welke’s tolerance for any questions from Bautista? There’s probably a good chance.
Put all together, Bautista became an undeserving lightning rod Monday, with his leadership debated and criticized on talk radio, and assertions made that he was selfish.
That end of the public conversation was nonsensical, as any player willing to crash into an outfield wall to try and make a play, the way Bautista did in the first inning Sunday trying to catch a Ben Zobrist drive, is clearly doing everything in his power to try and help his club win.
Every team would sign up for that kind of selfish.
Now, should Bautista have known to walk away sooner given his past with Welke?
Probably, especially given how his past run-ins with the men in black have earned him a reputation for dissing umpires.
Should a player of his stature deserve more leeway given the stakes at this point of the season?
The unfortunate part for Bautista is that even though he’s been completely different with umpires this year, eliminating many of the public rebukes and exaggerated gestures that got him into so much trouble the previous few campaigns, rehabilitating that perception won’t be easy.
"I feel what I said and what I did didn’t warrant an ejection, but I did get ejected and I don’t have anybody else to blame for that, that’s my fault," said Bautista. "But I also wanted to say what I wanted to say … without cursing, without raising my voice, without being animated, without showing him up, and I don’t think that when you do that in a polite manner you should get ejected."
Neither does Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who sounded critical of his player in the aftermath of Sunday’s 2-1 loss in 10 innings to the Rays, but noted that, "I’ve got no problem with players arguing with umpires, I’ve got no problem at all with that."
"I don’t know exactly what was said, this and that," Gibbons added. "To be honest, I think he’s handled himself very well this year. My point is, we need him, he doesn’t do us any good sitting on the bench."
That’s where things get really complicated for Bautista now.
Seeking explanations and stating a case to umpires is an important piece of gamesmanship that players engage in, partly to understand why a certain call was made and partly in the hopes of influencing future calls.
Bautista admits he’s walked the line before in conversations with umpires, but on Sunday, once Welke told him to leave, there was far less leeway than usual.
"I didn’t want to get ejected, that’s why I thought the way I handled the situation was not a way to get ejected," said Bautista. "I’ve gotten into arguments before, I’ve complained after plays, I’ve made claims to umpires after plays that I knew I was putting myself at risk of getting ejected, not that time.
"I’m very well aware of the importance of each game when we’re getting to the ballpark each day, let alone in the middle of one."
Bautista’s ejection led to a series of unfortunate events that led to the loss, with Nolan Reimold, who took over in right field, missing a catch that eventually led to the winning run, and later striking out with men on the corners to seal the loss.
Still, had Jose Reyes or Melky Cabrera delivered earlier in the 10th inning, when the Blue Jays put men on the corners with none out, Bautista’s ejection is likely a footnote in the contest.
Those who think he’s selfish?
"I know my motives," he said. "I know the things I do and why I do them, what makes me a good player, what makes me tick and why I come out here every day and what my purpose is. If some people want to believe that’s part of an ulterior motive, obviously they’re entitled to their opinion, but I just don’t agree with it."
Asked if Sunday’s experience would change the way he deals with umpires, Bautista replied, "No. Why would it?"
Told he can’t win with umpires, he answered, "Nobody can ever win. That doesn’t mean you have to keep your mouth shut, especially when you’re being polite, especially when you’re not raising your voice, not using curse words. I didn’t know there was a gag order put out in baseball. If that rule was put out, I haven’t gotten the memo yet."
Well, Welke may have delivered it Sunday, addressed to Bautista only.