In the top of the first today in Pittsburgh, Bryce Harper checked his swing on a two-strike ball from Pirates pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. When third base umpire John Hirschbeck ruled that he did indeed swing, Harper threw up his hands in protest. The two began arguing with each other, and Hirschbeck also threw his hands up and began walking towards Harper. After a bit more jawing, Harper tossed down his helmet and Hirschbeck ejected him, although it seemed to many that Harper had not done anything egregious. The whole video is below.
After the game, all parties had something to say, with the notable exception of Harper. He merely commented, multiple times, that he didn’t want to “badmouth anybody” and that he was glad his ejection did not cost the Nats the game. This was likely a prudent move, for anything else could have helped perpetuate the perception of Harper as arrogant or having an attitude problem. Manager Davey Johnsonwas diplomatic in his comments. He remarked that Hirschbeck “made the right call”, but also noted that he “didn’t have to walk towards [Harper]” and said he told Hirschbeck to “call him out and then turn around.”
Hirschbeck, however, was much more adamant in his stance. He said he was “being nice” by not immediately ejecting Harper after he threw up his hands, saying that “I could have ejected him right then. I was nice enough to leave him in the game.” After Harper “slammed” his bat and helmet down, Hirschbeck says he “had no other recourse” but to eject him.
Some members of the online media has vilified Hirschbeck. NBC’s HardballTalk says Hirschbeck was “looking for trouble” and that he joined a group of “umpires [who] tend to think they are the center of attention and that their offenses are of the utmost importance.” Noted critic of seemingly self-important umpires and ESPN writer Keith Law said on Twitter that “Hirschbeck should be suspended, but won’t.” The Nationals twitter community was outraged with Hirschbeck, as many fans would be. When asked about the opinions of fans, specifically those who might watch or go to games to see stars like Bryce Harper, Hirschbeck responded “[Harper] needs to think of that next time and keep himself in the game. It’s not my job.”
It can be easily argued that Harper did not deserve his ejection, that players have been kept in the game after much worse. However, Davey is right in that Hirschbeck made the right call. Harper needs to keep himself out of situations like that, though it may have been a manifestation of his frustrations boiling over, as he is mired in a mini-slump of 3-26 at the plate. In any event, this may have a silver lining: Davey said afterwards that he had hoped to give Harper a day off to allow him to recover from the bruised side he suffered in Atlanta, “but I didn’t expect it to go that way.” With no game on Monday, Harper should be in much better shape to break out of his possibly injury-induced slump against Detroit on Tuesday.