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:
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.