Steve Brownlee column: Verbal assaults are still assaults

Maybe it’s the time of year, but there’s a topic I want to revisit that I first addressed in this space almost exactly two years ago.

In a nutshell, it’s how the level of tolerance varies widely from sport to sport with certain kinds of acts. I’m thinking acts that can injure opponents and also the amount of arguing with game officials that is tolerated.

I didn’t have an answer then, no one’s offered me one in the last 24 months, nor I have come up with the answer myself.

So I’ll offer my case again.

It all came back to me after watching ESPN’s Sportscenter on Monday night when Texas Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski got thrown out of the Major League baseball game for arguing that a pitch was a strike rather than a ball as called by home plate umpire Ron Kulpa.

Pierzynski – who I’m going to refer to as “Smith” if I keep having to spell his name correctly a whole lot more – was thrown out of the game for his protest as players and managers are warned they will be for arguing balls and strikes.

What was so special about this ejection? Pierzynski’s pitcher, Yu Darvish, had a perfect game going when the call was made in the sixth inning against Houston. The catcher wasn’t even tossed after his first argument on ball three, but only when ball four was thrown and the arguing from Pierzynski resumed.

The catcher was quoted widely after the game as saying: “I was upset we walked the guy, I said a bad word and was ejected.”

I would’ve let this go, but in the reading I’ve done on the Internet since, some writers seem to think the ump was in the wrong, that Pierzynski should been allowed to stay in the game.

David Brown on Yahoo Sports said: “… Darvish lost another bid for a no-hitter … but it was the actions of an umpire that sullied his attempt and distracted from it.”

Later: “It’s impossible to say that Darvish definitely would have pitched a no-hitter with Pierzynski still behind the plate, but it’s not unfair to wonder after Kulpa tipped over the applecart.”

Or Marc Normandin on SB Nation: “… you can see that it looks as if Kulpa is all fired up and looking for a fight after issuing a walk, while Pierzynski seems like the level-headed of the two.”

Well, yeah, the umpire is the one whose authority to call the game is being challenged.

If this was any of the other major sports, there’s no way this wouldn’t have ended with a technical foul (NBA), 10-minute misconduct (NHL) or 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty (NFL). Possibly an ejection too, depending on how vehement and long the arguing went on.

And we’d say to the argumentative player, “So what did you think they were going to do to you when you started in on him like that?”

Why the difference? As many 8-year-olds are fond of saying, “Search me?”

Maybe baseball has it right – that we should allow team members to berate officials for awhile – until somewhere on some Little League field, some parent, coach or player copies this action and takes it to another level, assaulting these officials.

It’s happened before, so don’t tell me, “Oh, I didn’t think of that.”