The 2020 MLB season just gets stranger and even more ridiculous by the day. Whether it’s players and coaches missing time due to Covid-19, umpires and coaches arguing while trying to remain socially distant, or even unwritten rules sparking a team’s rise and another’s downfall. However, the incident of an umpire crew led by the infamous Joe West ejecting Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo over an issue attributed to Rizzo’s heckling of West’s calls and also due to Rizzo’s lack of wearing a mask during the game may have taken the insanity to the next level.
Some context of the situation may be helpful. The Nationals were facing off against their division rival Atlanta Braves on September 6th, a result that would end up being a blowout 10–3 victory for the Braves. At the time of the situation, the score was 7–1 in favor of the Braves and Eric Thames was batting with two outs. All of a sudden, umpire Hunter Wendelstedt pointed towards Rizzo, who was alone in the third deck of Truist Park in Atlanta, GA, and yelled “You’re out”. He then motioned toward the Braves dugout mentioning his lack of wearing a mask.
In the aftermath, crew chief Joe West attributed the ejection to Rizzo’s constant heckling of the calls made by the crew, and on this particular instance, he yelled “you’re brutal” towards the umpires. West said that this behavior was unacceptable.
““I wouldn’t take that from a player. I wouldn’t take that from a manager,” West said, via the associated press. “If it was Donald Trump, I’d eject him, too. But I’d still vote for him.”
The whole situation in itself is strange even within the world of Covid-19. Players and managers getting ejected from games are commonplace within the history of the MLB. General Managers getting ejected is a much more unique occurrence, and is almost unimaginable if fans are in attendance.
Rizzo is said to have been causing a disturbance throughout the game, but the decision to toss him from the game is still not a good look for West’s crew. Umpires and all other officials, in general, are expected to have thick skin in regards to criticism, especially when it is coming from beyond the dugout. If umpiring crews start to demand blind respect from all within the stadium then a problem is bound to happen. Will players be ejected for simply questioning a call? Will general managers be restricted to relative silence during a game, even when they feel their team is being unfairly treated? These are the questions that will arise from a situation like this, and West’s crew has set the precedent for a ridiculous rest of the season.
The mask excuse is also extremely relevant in the situation. If Rizzo was ejected truly because he wasn’t wearing a mask, then it presents a unique situation. The rules around mask-wearing and social distancing have and continue to remain clear, especially when it comes to professional sports leagues. Is Rizzo required to wear a mask while not within a close distance to anyone else? He is also assumed to have been tested relatively recently as all team personnel is tested regularly. Will enforcing the use of masks begin to become a weapon for umpires or will the guidelines become more clear?
It’s also important to acknowledge West’s bizarre comment about President Donald Trump. West brought this up out of context and it just adds a whole new wrinkle to the situation while this incident had no real relation to any political issues except for the mask-wearing movement. Maybe West used this comment to distract from the situation or maybe he just wanted to stir the pot. All we know is that 2020 is no ordinary year and will not be normal anytime soon.