In baseball, it’s not uncommon for pitchers to express their frustration with the opposing team in the form of an intentional hit by pitch. Usually it comes after a showy bat flip, or as retribution for a player on their own team being hit. Baseball’s unwritten rules not only allow for this, they expect it.
But when the person getting hit is an umpire, everything changes.
On Wednesday afternoon — during what would become the Cleveland Indians’ 21st consecutive win — umpire Quinn Wolcott took issue with Tigers’ catcher James McCann and manager Brad Ausmus arguing strikes. Ausmus may have insinuated that Wolcott wasn’t calling the game fairly, on account of the high expectations surrounding the Indians’ unprecedented streak.
When McCann voiced his opinions on the matter, both he and Ausmus were ejected. McCann’s comments, evidently, were, “All I said was, ‘I want the same strike zone that they're getting. I don't care about their win streak, where we are in the standings. We deserve the same pitches called strikes that they're getting called strikes.’”
John Hicks replaced McCann, and shortly after he came into the game missed a pitch from Farmer that ended up hitting Wolcott. The Indians’ broadcasters insinuated Hicks missed the ball on purpose so Farmer could hit the umpire.
Ausmus was quick to call this absurd.
"I heard the Indians broadcast. To imply that that was intentional is, first of all, a lie. If any player on this team intentionally tried to hurt an umpire, we'd deal with that severely. But for anyone to imply that that was intentional, that's completely wrong. They're out of line saying that, quite frankly."
Farmer also took to Twitter immediately after the game to put the rumors to rest.
Hate that people think I would hit the umpire intentionally... I have more respect for the game than that #notthattypeofplayer— Buck Farmer (@B_Farm09) September 13, 2017
Apparently, however, the MLB is not yet satisfied, because according to the Associated Press the matter is now being investigated further. With all the hullabaloo around umpires this season, it seems likely this call was made by the umpires’ union, though this hasn’t been made official. With umpires experiencing all-time high levels of negativity on the field, it’s possible they’re using this instance as an opportunity to make a point.
As for the hit, you can make your own decisions about whether or not it was intentional, but hitting an umpire as retribution is well outside the unwritten rules of baseball — whether you choose to put much stock in those — and Farmer himself insists it was just bad luck.
John Hicks had been in the game for a mere two batters at this point, and has played in only 17 games as a catcher this season. There’s a lot of reason to believe this was just a miscommunication between teammates.
Indians announcers weren't alone in thinking Tigers hit Quinn Walcott on purpose. Read his lips: "They didn't do that on purpose, did they?" pic.twitter.com/MVXZ17SeQE— Jason Foster (@ByJasonFoster) September 14, 2017
There is no word yet on what the MLB might do if they determine the hit was intentional, but it would likely result in suspensions for Farmer and potentially Hicks as well.
MLB statement says it has reviewed incident, and that Joe Torre concluded no Tigers intended for pitch to hit Wolcott. No discipline issued.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) September 15, 2017