Bob Watson has lost his mind

by on August 21, 2008 · 4 comments

As I was watching Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, watching the Cards squander another opportunity for a sweep, I saw something that I hadn’t seen from a Cardinal hurler all season.  I saw Kyle Lohse stick up for someone on his team.  Granted, it was himself he was sticking up for, but he showed some moxie nonetheless.

Edinson Volquez had buzzed Lohse in the top of the fifth, high and tight under the chin, and it was clear Kyle didn’t like it, glaring out at Volquez.  Edinson, for his part, played the role he’s supposed to in that case, stomping around like he was upset with himself for losing the pitch up there – he didn’t intend to do it.  And he’d have a good argument – Volquez is among the league leaders in HBP.  He walked four just in this game as well.

Whether he meant to come in on Lohse or not, Volquez quickly saw a very similar pitch from Lohse when leading off the bottom of the fifth inning.  Said Lohse after the game:

“Same spot,” Lohse noted, referring to his reply pitch. “Wasn’t trying to hit him, though.”

Umpire Greg Gibson quickly popped out from behind the plate, warned both dugouts, and the game went on.

“Well I’ll be danged” I muttered to myself.  All too often this season, opposing pitchers have taken liberties with Cardinal hitters, all-too-conveniently plunking them after a St Louis home run or clutch hit.  For all of the reputation that LaRussa has as a head-hunting manager, I sure haven’t seen any proof this season.  Even in this instance, I don’t believe LaRussa was behind it.  Whether you see it every outing or not, Lohse does have a competitive fire in his stomach, and I’m virtually certain that this buzzer to Volquez was all Kyle’s idea.

So,  no harm no foul, the game plods on to the top of the seventh inning.  That’s when Volquez got too far inside on Felipe Lopez and hit him in the small of the back.  While half-way expecting (and hoping for, because Volquez was cruising) an immediate ejection from home plate umpire Gibson, he made what I still to this day believe was the right call.  The pitch was not intentional.  Lopez took his base, Tony argued a little bit (but you’ll note not much, as you’d think he would if he really believed Volquez wanted to hit him), Volquez remained in the game, and they went on.  The funny thing is that not once did I think to myself “he was throwing at him, he should’ve been tossed.”  And I can admittedly be an over-reactive type, when it comes to things like that.

So, at the end of the day, the Cardinals took a loss, Lohse stood up for himself, and the umpires had gotten it right.  Cooler heads had prevailed.  Or so I thought.

The news came down yesterday that Bob Watson, vice president of on-field operations for MLB, had suspended Lohse for five games.

Um, what?

So for once this season (in the midst of heated battles between ownership and the umpires’ union over replay) your umpires had played their cards right, had let the game be decided by the players and not their rash decisions, and now you’re suspending a guy who wasn’t even kicked out of the game?  Come again?

Lohse, upon learing of his suspension said:

“My intent wasn’t to hit anybody. My intent was to make the opposing pitcher feel as uncomfortable as I did the at-bat before. The way they interpreted it, it seems like they feel I was trying to hit him.”

For a guy who has only 39 walks this season and has hit only two batters, I don’t think I’m too naive to believe that Kyle could have that sort of command of his pitches.  Throw it high and tight, don’t hit him.  To his credit, Volquez responded in kind:

“I don’t know if he really tried to hit me,” he said. “Maybe he was trying to take me out of the game a little bit, and mess with my concentration on the game.”

An excellent deduction.  Volquez was cruising, and Lohse had the ultimate spot and reason to fire off that pitch.  More from Volquez:

“I don’t want to hit a pitcher,” said Volquez, who received no discipline. “If I’m going to hit somebody, it’d be position players. In that situation, that wasn’t on purpose. I had two men on base and two outs. If I hit him, I have to face the No. 9 batter. I just tried to throw inside and the ball went up close to him. I think he got ticked off. That’s part of the game.” [bolding is mine]

Two things strike me here:  First, he’s right, he had nothing to gain by hitting Lohse, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, based upon his statistics indicating he can get wild, that he wasn’t trying to hit Lohse.  However, he also says that he thinks Lohse got upset with the pitch regardless, and (at least the way I read it) understands why he might have seen a similar pitch in the bottom of the inning.

That’s part of the game.  Even Dusty Baker was surprised:

“Five games and they didn’t even kick him out of the game. Wow,” Baker said. “The umpires don’t kick him out but the league suspends him. That’s a first, isn’t it? I haven’t seen that.”

Well, apparently not the way Bob Watson sees it.  So in a situation that was completely diffused by the players’ behavior and the calm rationale of the umpiring crew that day, Watson has stepped in and handed down his sentence on Lohse.  Five game suspension and an undisclosed fine.

Of course, Lohse will appeal, and I have to believe that the suspension will be reduced.  SInce he is a starting pitcher, the suspension is likely to have little to no affect on his regular turns in the rotation anyway.  In my mind, that is beside the point.  If Lohse deserved this penalty, Volquez deserved at least the same.  Again, the umpires did not see fit to eject anyone from the game, yet Lohse gets five games and Volquez nothing.  It’s almost as if Volquez is being rewarded for often being wild and having a track record for hitting batters.  Yet I should reiterate, I don’t believe that either player really deserved punishment, but how can you single out one and not the other as well?

Richie Sexson went bonkers earlier this season, charging the mound and throwing his helmet and several punches at a pitcher.  He got six games that was later reduced to five.  How in the world does Lohse’s *almost* hitting a batter come even close to comparing to Richie’s inexplicable display?  Fascinating.

As I said earlier, this will likely (hopefully, assuming that more intelligent heads prevail during the appeal process) be reduced and have little effect on Lohse at all, save for the fine taking a chunk out of his pocketbook.  But the precedent or example being made here is wrong.  Bob Watson needs to let his umpires make the decisions on field, using the knowledge they have of game situations and being in the heat of the moment itself, not by watching on video in his cushy office three days later.

This time the umps got it right.  Maybe they should use instant replay for determining who should be in charge of doling out the suspensions.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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