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THE HOT CORNER: The cost of managing anger

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THE HOT CORNER: The cost of managing anger

by Jim Allen (Jul 7, 2011)

A little over a week ago, Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura came unhinged.

On May 25, in Hiroshima's game against the Chunichi Dragons, umpire Junichi Sato called a Carp runner out at first on a close play. Nomura came charging out of the first-base dugout and earned an instant ejection by shoving the ump in the chest with both hands.

Being ejected only made Nomura hotter. When Sato turned his back and began walking away, Nomura reached out and touched him on the shoulder as if to spin the ump around and prevent his escape.

When Sato still kept moving, Nomura shoved him two more times before plate umpire Kunio Kiuchi stepped between them and began to restore order.

Former Carp ace Manabu Kitabeppu, working the game on TV as an analyst, had this to say:

"From my point of view, he was safe. You can say that for Nomura to come flying out like that, it's an instinctive response, something he couldn't stop.

"It's not good to touch the umpire, but on the other hand..."

After viewing the replay, Kitabeppu chimed in some more.

"He certainly was safe. The umpire was standing well behind the play, didn't see the ball bounce and went ahead and made the out call.

"Perhaps because of the manager's outburst, the players will pull together with the same kind of spirit the skipper showed."

Kitabeppu talked about how the blown call changed the game situation by removing a leadoff runner with the top of the order coming up.

What's wrong with that analysis?

The entire discussion centered around how the call and Nomura's rage affected one game. Yet, the issue encompasses much more than just a game or even a pennant race.

Leaving aside the moral argument that violence settles nothing, badgering mistaken umpires only makes a bad situation worse.

If one manager is allowed to bully umpires in hopes of getting more calls go his way, his opponent will do the same. If both managers harass umpires, no advantage is gained by either, but much can be lost.

Economics professor J.C. Bradbury argues in "The Baseball Economist" that not only is harassing the umpires a zero-sum game, it carries additional costs. These include wasting the fans' time and distracting managers' attention from the game and potential adjustments that could mean the difference between winning and losing.

It might even make the umpiring worse--something no one wants.

Takeshi Hirabayashi, a Triple-A umpire who worked for years in the Pacific League, has said he only ever had slumps in Japan--because there is so much pressure not to make mistakes.

"Sometimes, the pressure builds up so much that if you blow one call, you pray no difficult ones come your way," he told The Hot Corner a few years ago.

Hirabayashi said his child had even been harassed at school as a result of controversial calls he made while with the PL. No one should have to bear that kind of burden.

One can sympathize with a manager for being angry over a blown call, but does throwing a tantrum help? If anything, it likely makes it harder for an umpire to get it right the next time.

Thus, intimidating umpires hurts the product Nippon Professional Baseball is selling to the public.

Nomura received a two-game suspension. Two games?

That's quite serious by NPB standards, but not really enough to keep another manager from losing his cool and further devaluing the game.

According to NPB official Kazunori Ogaki, the unusually long ban was meted out because Nomura went after the ump without saying a word and kept going after him.

Anyone who thinks assaulting umpires is in any way tolerable isn't looking at the big picture: how much that kind behavior could cost the game as a whole.

Want to stop the abuse forever? Starting next season, why not make intentional contact a one-month suspension.

That should result in some real anger management.

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