By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Temper tantrums, typically, are the province of toddlers. They are not supposed to be a characteristic of the unbiased, unemotional arbiters of the rules on a sporting field of play.

Veteran MLB umpire Ron Kulpa, though? There’s a fellow who had himself a temper tantrum on Wednesday evening in Arlington, Texas. And he ought to be forced to pay for it.

The incident took place in the top of the second inning, when several members of the Astros’ dugout vocally protested a strike called on Tyler White. This was the pitch in question:

Strike Zone Map from Houston-Texas (Screen shot from Brooks Baseball)

The pitch was clearly low; Kulpa had clearly blown the call. It wasn’t the first blown call in the history of baseball. It happens. Likewise, it was not the first instance of players disagreeing with a single strike call in the middle of a baseball game.

The worst thing that the broadcast microphones picked up from the dugout was someone saying, “No way.”

It did not need to become a major incident.

Alas, Kulpa apparently had his rabbit ears on for this game, as he almost immediately removed his mask and aggressively gestured at the Houston dugout. He raised his arms and also issued a dismissive backhand wave to the players as he defended his bad call.

This prompted Astros manager A.J. Hinch to exit the dugout and approach Kulpa in order to play peacekeeper. This should never be the case. The players and coaches involved in the game should never be in a position where they feel obligated to calm the emotions of an umpire. That is not how the equation works.

Nevertheless, Hinch kept his cool, despite the umpire pointing for him to return to the dugout while dismissively telling Hinch to not question him. Hinch calmed down Kulpa. Briefly.

Before even one more pitch was thrown, the umpire leered into the Houston dugout, essentially daring the players to say something. Hinch had to once again take the field to kindly ask the neutral game official to stop staring down his players. The mics picked up Hinch’s words to Kulpa: “There’s nothing to see. There’s nothing for you to see. Look out there. Look right there.”

The cavalier Kulpa then ejected the Astros’ hitting coach.

The game continued. Kulpa called a strike. Guess what he did next.

He stared down the Astros.

It was wildly unprofessional, so Hinch came out once again. This time, the manager had to inform the umpire that he could not keep antagonizing the baseball team in the dugout.

Kulpa responded by telling Hinch that he can do anything he wants. Literally. Hinch ended up earning an ejection, too.

This one fella on Twitter captured the whole experience quite well:

Really, what took place was a wild overcompensation for simply missing a strike call. A man with a calm head on his shoulders would have endured the five seconds of protest from the Astros’ bench and gotten back to work, trying his best to make every call thereafter. Kulpa couldn’t do that, though. He had to exert his power by antagonizing the entire Houston bench. Kulpa clearly was not going to be satisfied until he kicked out some Astros.

And Kulpa wasn’t even finished. Not satisfied with his performance, he felt the need to start a tiff with Astros starter Gerrit Cole after an inning and then interrupted Cole’s warmup pitches prior to another inning.

This was, quite simply, childish and unprofessional behavior from a person who is not supposed to act in such a way.

As the MLB rules state, “The umpires shall be responsible for the conduct of the game in accordance with these official rules and for maintaining discipline and order on the playing field during the game. … Each umpire is the representative of the league and of professional baseball, and is authorized and required to enforce all of these rules.”

The person tasked with “maintaining discipline and order on the playing field during the game” should not be an active participant in disrupting the discipline and order on the playing field.

The incident does call to mind another case of Kulpa blowing a call and — instead of humbly admitting some fault and efforting to do better going forward — compounding the issue by stacking another bad call on top of it:

No angles showed Kulpa staring into the dugout after that call, but based on the reaction of David Ortiz, it appears it only took a split-second for him to make eye contact with the umpire when looking back at the field.

A year prior to that incident, Kulpa arrogantly told Ryan Raburn to get to the dugout after a borderline strike three call.

He also once followed A.J. Pierzynski as the catcher tried to walk away after emotionally snapping at the umpire. Kulpa couldn’t let that go and chose to stalk Pierzynski on his walk toward the mound in order to eject him.

(If you’re wondering why Pierzynski snapped over this one call, aside from the fact that he’s A.J. Pierzynski, it’s worth noting that this walk ended Yu Darvish’s bid for a perfect game.)

Clearly, Kulpa has a history of taking things personally on the field. That’s not supposed to be a defining trait of a professional who is tasked with making calls on the field without emotion.

Really, Kulpa’s shown a pattern of believing he can do anything he wants. On Wednesday, he merely vocalized that belief.

Whether it be via suspension or fine or at the very least a public statement that reminds Kulpa that he does not actually have free rein to stare down and antagonize entire dugouts, the MLB needs to bluntly remind Kulpa that he cannot do whatever he wants.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

Comments (31)
  1. Steve English says:

    Rules 9.02 and 9.02a pretty clearly put Kulpa in the right in this situation. The Astros’ bench had been complaining about balls and strikes for awhile, which is not permitted under 9.02. They were warned and yet persisted, so their pitching coach got tossed. Then the manager went out on the field and continued his protest, which is a mandatory ejection under 9.02a. Whether Kulpa was a jerk about it or not is beside the point. The umpire was in clear accordance with the rules. The only thing MLB should be discussing with him is his strike zone consistency, but that’s a conversation that needs to happen after a full season with more than a single game of data under consideration.

    1. Joe Rivard says:

      John Hastings – Kulpa is the one acting like a Prima Donna not Cole…you must be a Rangers fan or something bc Cole looked like he was trying to keep his mouth shut and walk off but its irrelevant bc Kulpa was acting like an A-Hole well before the Cole tiff

    2. Larry Morrill says:

      Well – Adolph Hess was following the rules – luckily Abuse of Power is so Naked and Ugly, Sentient humans with a whole picture view and Normal Emotional Quotient understand why Kulpa was wrong. But not Steve – he has Hess’s back on this one.

  2. Harlan Hansen says:

    This and challenging calls, is why haven’t watched baseball in years.

  3. Steve English – If by “awhile” you mean one inning, then sure. Kulpa being a jerk is exactly the point. He is there to enforce the rules and to de-escalate tension on the field so everyone remains safe. He’s not there to pick fights and assert his dominance, which is exactly what he did last night.

    1. Landon Lewis says:

      Absolutely Chelsey! Steve English is completely wrong on this.

  4. Mark Brinkmann says:

    Notice how you never see players/coaches tossed on the bang-bang plays on the basepaths, or on the home run call? It’s all been diffused by the replay. Tennis doesn’t have issues with line calls anymore. Yet, baseball games can turn on a bad ball/strike call just as much as a bad call on the base paths. Just look at the batting average splits when the batter has a 3/1 count vs. 2/2.

    In game 7 of 2011, research showed that my Cardinals received 12 calls behind home plate that should have gone the Rangers way. It’s time to use the technology, and eliminate the umpires on ball/strike. It will speed up the game. It will eliminate the advantage that the star players get from umpires, who refuse to ring them up on a 3rd called strike. It’s time.

  5. John Hastings says:

    Maybe Cole could have gotten off his fat ass earlier and started warm-ups when he was supposed to instead of being the prima donna he has always been and waiting in the dugout while the warm-up countdown clock was running.

  6. Wade Pearson says:

    Umpires should be deescalating incidents not stirring them up. Anytime an ump escalates or continues an argument (for instance following a player or manager to continue the argument.
    they should be disciplined.

  7. Winston Huntley says:

    Nobody watches baseball to see the umpire. There are a couple of umpires who don’t understand this, and Kulpa is one of them.

    The problem is, any disciplinary procedure applied to him will be protested by the union (which is why unions are trash.) The union could actually step up and warn Kulpa that he won’t receive their protection if there’s another incident… but, the idea of a union demanding quality or professional work from its members is laughable.

    1. RF Burns says:

      You nailed it 100%!

  8. John Smith says:

    Wow, people still watch baseball!?!? The baseball crowd is the spill-over from the NASCAR crowd, only with less personal wealth. If you idolize some roided up idiotwagon who makes more than TEN of the best brain surgeons in the country combined to hit a ball with a wooden stick, you need to re-evaluate your life decisions.

    1. Surgeries aren’t that fun to watch.

  9. Sonny DeVusser says:

    Kulpa must have graduated from the Joe West school of umpiring…..

  10. Reinald Vallejo says:

    Officiating is ruining sports.

  11. Jerome Barry says:

    In that game, a 1st inning blown call by Kulpa, which should have been a 3rd strike on Gallo, was the first. The second inning blown call, which should have been a ball on White, was what got the Astros players chattering.

  12. bradlouiscarroll says:

    Main video clip interrupted by Advertisement so I didn’t watch or read the rest of this story. I will get this news where I am not forced to watch commercials.

  13. David L Whitehead says:

    I would first like to say, I am a Blue Jays fan, so I have not pony in this race. I have coached little league baseball and I have officiated High School baseball. (I have also officiated basketball on numerous levels for 20+ years).

    The actions of this umpire are atrocious. A professional demeanor is absolutely demanded when you are behind the plate, on the base paths or wearing the stripes.

    The manager, in this instance, was not debating strikes and balls. He was protecting his players from an antagonistic umpire. The umpire was goading the players to say something. The umpire looking over at the bench could easily be construed as a hostile stance or action, egging the players to say something. He wanted to throw someone out of the game. Very unprofessional.

    This umpire should be suspended for a number of games, he should be fined and he should be banned from any post season assignments.

    Officiating sports is a very difficult job. But unprofessional officials make it harder on all the good ones.

  14. It’s everywhere in sports, at all levels of every sport. Refs, umpires, players, fans….it’s a mess. Our entire culture is to blame. No need to get into that here. That would takes volumes of books. Everything we see in the news or on social media is symptomatic of a larger illness in the United States. It won’t end until enough people grow tired of it all. Unfortunately, I don’t expect this will happen in my lifetime. For that reason, if I don’t know you, you are just another potential A-Hole to be avoided.

  15. Ryan Clarke says:

    >This prompted Astros manager A.J. Hinch to exit the dugout and approach Kulpa in order to play peacekeeper.

    LOL, right….. Hinch could have settled down his own players but chose to confront the ump. It doesn’t matter the sport, baseball, basketball etc. the players are endlessly disrespectful towards those officiating the game. This kind of article blaming the ump (missed calls happen) while exonerating the Astros and coach is part of the larger problem.

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