TORONTO – A few times now Jose Bautista has been told to be careful with his outbursts at umpires, warned of how dramatic displays when disagreeing with calls will only hurt him, reminded that the men in black have long memories.
Still, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger doesn’t see the big deal. He’s an emotional player driven by a fiery intensity, sometimes that comes out, and regardless of whether or not the umpires take things the wrong way, a strike is a strike, no matter how they may feel about him.
“I’m not a robot and I can’t control my emotions 100 per cent of the time, so that’d be pretty tough,” Bautista told a small handful of reporters Wednesday evening. “I don’t know (about there being a political factor), that’s more for you to kind of dictate it yourself. I mean, is that professional? Just because one guy reacts more than the other, then every single time there’s a close pitch it’s a strike? Or are you going to go by the parameters defined by Major League Baseball, what’s a strike and what’s a ball? I’ll let you decide what’s right and what’s wrong on that one. It’s not my place to decide.”
Bautista’s point, coming the day after he had a couple of exchanges with home plate umpire Jeff Nelson, is well made, but just as players aren’t robots, neither are umpires.
The sad reality is that venting his frustrations at the wrong call and speaking the truth may hurt him, since the general consensus is that the more players chirp, the less likely they are to get close calls, and if an ump is shown up, they won’t soon forget, especially if a player gets a rep.
“If it happens too often, not just with Jose, with a lot of guys, they start to think you’re whining,” said manager John Gibbons, who addressed the matter with his No. 3 hitter during spring training.
Or as first base coach Dwayne Murphy told sportsnet.ca recently: “Me and Jose talked about it quite a bit, you’re going to just hurt yourself. You’ve got to, not be friends with them, but you’ve got to understand these are the guys making the calls. We had meetings about it (as a team) because there were other guys, (Yunel) Escobar did it, there were other guys doing it. I told them, you guys are going to have problems if you keep doing this stuff.”
Those messages seem to have done little to deter Bautista, who during Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Cleveland Indians flipped his bat toward the dugout and headed toward first on a 3-0 pitch that Nelson eventually called a strike, and later jawed at Nelson after getting wrung up.
The exchanges triggered memories of Bautista’s outbursts over ball and strike calls during a slow start early last season, though he was far from the only Blue Jays player to routinely get into it with umpires in 2012. Former manager John Farrell’s secondary title could have been whiner-in-chief.
“When I see something out of line and that I think in my head looks out of place, I react,” said Bautista. “I’m not sitting there turning around yelling at them all the time, a lot of times I just react and get back in the box and try to battle.
“Sometimes I have trouble more than other players dealing with my production being affected by somebody else’s mediocrity. It’s just the way I am as a person, it’s a tougher pill to swallow for me sometimes.”
While that last comment is certain not to win him friends with umpires, it is not without merit. A bone of contention between uniformed personnel and the officiating crews is that while the former must answer publicly for what happens on the field, the latter do not, even when their mistakes directly affect games.
And while the perception exists that the more savvy players tend to get calls to go their way – Derek Jeter, we’re looking in your direction – that certainly shouldn’t justify any inconsistencies in strike zone from player to player.
“I don’t want to get calls. I want the right call to be made,” said Bautista. “And I’m not saying that every time I react a certain way, the call is the way I think about it. No. But if seven out of 10, eight out of 10 times that I react, I go back and look at video and I still think I’m right, then there’s something to it. But what can I do? I can’t control it. I can’t change it.
“I know you were saying about the politics of it – I’ve gone months at a time without reacting and those calls still get made. So it doesn’t make a difference if you react or not, umpires are always going to make mistakes. That’s the nature of the game, it’s part of the game. Just for me, it’s harder to deal with. If that’s my weakness as a player, then I guess I must be doing all right in other aspects.
“I wish everybody else was more concerned about other things that I’m not doing right on the field, and not the way I react to umpires. I don’t see how I’m making this team a worse team because I react all the time. And I don’t know if I react all the time, but I react more than the normal person.”
Asked if there was a good way to engage an umpire without making enemies, Gibbons, a former catcher, said toned-down conversations were a particularly effective way of getting your point across.
“If you explode on them, that’s when they have a problem with it,” he explained. “Nobody likes to be shown up in the game. Nobody likes to be jumped on.”
For his part, Bautista insists he isn’t trying to show up the umpires in the least. He’s just displaying his natural reaction to what happens on the field.
“I don’t see anything wrong with playing with emotion,” he said. “I’m a determined person, I have to rely on my eyes to dictate what I can and cannot do on the field. And if my eyes are telling me something and I see a different result, than I react, it’s normal. I don’t mean any disrespect by it, I’m not trying to make anybody look bad, and I don’t think I make anybody look bad by reacting.
“I am starting to feel annoyed a little bit about the fact that everybody is trying to point the finger at me, saying I’m reacting and that’s something negative. Everybody is human, everybody makes mistakes, and I do it sometimes and a lot of times they do it, too. Everybody seems to be fine with that. It’s something I’m going to have to deal with and every player deals with all year long.
“Sometimes you wish some aspects of the game were up to par with the others and you have to be realistic at times, sometimes it’s tough to deal with.”
No doubt there, and if the umpires take his words and actions the wrong way, it can still get tougher.