Mea Kulpa-What Ron Kulpa’s Power Trip Tells Us About the Current State of Officiating

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I can do anything I want!-Ron Kulpa to Astro’s Manager AJ Hinch.

Baseball twitter has been ablaze since the incident, so I’m sure you’ve read ten stories about it already, but here is a good companion breakdown of the Kulpa incident from Twitter:

Being an official at any level, in any sport, is not an enviable gig. When I was 13 I donned the powder blue polo, dark pants, and cautiously stood behind a nine-year-old catcher who appeared to be fairly surprised that he was going to be behind the plate that game.

“Have you ever caught before?” I gestured towards his worn catcher’s mitt. He quickly shook his head. Wonderful.

I umpired only for a few seasons, much more satisfied with being up in the press box running the music and scoreboard. But even in my short time umping I knew it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the pressure of making calls, it was the constant swirl of annoyance being hurled at you at all times. From coaches, from players, from fans, at any given moment SOMEONE hated your guts.

It was an unpleasant feeling. And it didn’t seem to matter if you were doing a good or a bad job, they would be annoyed regardless. I remember one of the breaking points for me. Keep in mind I was again only like thirteen, but there was a play at the plate, bang-bang, and I called the runner out on the tag. Was he out? Who knows, but to me it sure seemed like he was.

Out trotted a grizzled 50-something-year-old coach, going ballistic.

No way was he out! How could you call that? He was clearly under the tag! That is a BAD call!

I decided immediately that the 15 bucks a game wasn’t worth being screamed at by this guy.

There are plenty of people that can get past the screaming and yelling, and make their way through the officiating circuit. You work your way up, go to clinics, attend camps, you get better, you gain more experience. Guys like Ron Kulpa have spent most of their lives doing a job that nobody wants to do. There is respect in that. And yet what Ron Kulpa did this week is part of the swing of officials in all sports to flex their reffing muscles, and show who is “boss”.

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If you are an avid sports fan you’ve noticed it. The ejections and technical fouls are coming hard and fast. Hell, Spurs coach Greg Popovich just set a record with his latest ejection.

We are in an age where officials everywhere are done being just rule-enforcers and are now the behavior-police. They seemingly are tired of being background characters, and now are itching for leading roles. Should we REALLY know the name Ron Kulpa? Do we REALLY buy tickets to see the Astros play, or do we buy them to see Kulpa ump?

My father umped for a while, and he reported back to me how militaristic the training sessions felt. How it didn’t feel like a cohesive plan to just enforce the rules and call a good game, it felt more like it is YOU vs. THEM. Them being the players and coaches.

Are there going to be times when an ejection is called for, when a player/coach takes it too far? Of course. Cursing up a storm, physically threatening, being an absolute nut, these are all things that I am completely okay with officials determining that particular person is not welcome on the field or the court at that time. We all lose our heads sometimes. But that should be a LAST resort, a final straw. Popovich was tossed before the Spurs even had a chance to score a basket.

I remember going to old RFK stadium to see the Nats take on the Cardinals. Albert Pujols was on the team then, and in his prime. We bought tickets to go see Albert, one of the greatest hitters of our generation. He was ejected in the bottom of the 2nd inning while discussing his previous at-bat with the field umpire. Just like that, our purpose of even buying tickets was headed off to the showers.

If the MLB truly cares about the players, about the fans, then Ron Kulpa should be suspended for a decent amount of time. Send him back to the minors, bring up someone else who isn’t here to look for fights. The goal of an umpire should be to call the best game he or she can, not to tussle with managers.

The MLB needs to send a message to Kulpa and to officials everywhere:

No, you CAN’T do anything you want.

 

 

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