The long arm of the umpire may grow
I wandered past a youth league baseball game the other day. It wasn't Little League, but another brand. A tournament game.
I know it was a tournament contest because that's when parents decide to paint silly things on their car windows, wishing their children luck or telling people how good their league is. We can do without that. Seriously, the only thing important enough to paint on your car is 'For Sale.'
Anyway, the game was rolling along when the base umpire Ñ whose only hustle all day was for a drink of water between innings Ñ made a rather ridiculous call at second. After a lengthy discussion with the plate umpire, he was persuaded to reverse his decision.
When a runner who had been called out was sent back out to second, one old-timer in the stands yelped a mild rebuke.
'Shut up!' the base ump snapped to the fan, pointing at him.
At that point, I begin to worry about that do-gooder bill in our Legislature. It's going to pass, of course, in this politically correct world where few people have the guts to stand up for common sense.
The bill would give umpires, referees and game officials Ñ from the NBA to youth leagues Ñ the right to subject fans and players to automatic fines and even jail time for their conduct.
The bill seems to rely on umpires' judgment more than it should. And we already have adequate penalties for things such as assault and unruly behavior.
Folks, this is not to condone unruly, rowdy and obnoxious behavior at youth sports events. Nobody wants parents assaulting umpires or getting into fights.
But the umpires at the game I saw were paid to be there Ñ unlike the coaches, groundskeepers and everyone else trying to provide a nice place for kids to play ball. That requires at least a degree of professionalism. And when I umpired, I always assumed that taking a little heat from fans was part of the job.
Let's be real. Yelling at the ump, as long as it's clean, to the point and not too out of hand, is part of the game. Always has been. Good umpires know this and ignore it.
I'm not sure that every guy who puts on a blue shirt and walks out onto a baseball diamond with a whisk broom, or who owns a whistle and a striped shirt, is capable of deciding what is acceptable behavior. Some officials are just as imperfect as the fans who cause problems.
Some of them have enough trouble with the rule books of their chosen sport, and I'm not ready to trust them as quasi-law enforcement officers. Kick people out of the ballpark? Fine, do that. Forfeit a game if you must. But when it comes to legal penalties, I'm not at all comfortable with them being deputized.
A lot of sports officials get the bare minimum of training before they are assigned to games. I don't know that any of it is in criminal justice.
Making a bad call that costs someone a game is one thing. Making one that unjustly gets somebody arrested is quite another.