The Rundown: Joe West and Umps Unite the White Wristbands, Who the Hell is Matt Swarmer?

MLB Umpires are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. As such, they banded together in solidarity — presumably with Twisted Sister blaring in the background — and came out for Saturday’s games in a powerful show of solidarity…by wearing white wristbands. Since, you know, the intent would be totally obvious to and not at completely overlooked by everyone who’s not an umpire.

Below is the tweet from the World Umpires Union featuring their official statement on the silent protest, which is meant “to protest escalating verbal attacks on umpires and their strong objection to the Office of the Commissioner’s response to such attacks.”

Though they don’t name him, the player who “impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez” is Ian Kinsler. The Tigers second baseman was recently ejected by Hernandez for arguing balls and strikes, after which he accused the umpire of “ruining baseball games,” among other things.

First things first, Kinsler isn’t impugning Hernandez’s character or integrity, at least not any more than the ump himself does each time he steps on the field. Okay, perhaps that was a bit harsh. But when you’re one of the men most frequently cited as Exhibit A for an electronic strike zone, you’re probably on shaky ground right from the jump. And as much as I’m not not a big fan of Kinsler going public with his critique, I’m far less enthusiastic about Hernandez and others of his ilk making the game about themselves in front of fans in the ballpark and on TV.

Case in point, Country Joe West staring down Jon Jay and essentially daring him to so much as breathe in the notoriously attention-hungry ump’s direction. A more conspiratorial writer might even say that West was trying to prove a point in light of the whole white-wristband-power movement Saturday. But that’s probably crazy, right?

The more I hear about this, the more of a farce it becomes. Like, with whom are these guys trying to curry favor? The best officiated games in any sport are those in which the officials are not noticed. That’s nigh impossible in baseball, a game that relies on calls with nearly every pitch, but there’s a vast difference between men who attempt to flow with the game and those who act as a dam through which the action must flow.

Listen, I understand it’s not easy to pick up a 95 mph fastball with run as it crosses the plate or correctly identify which bang came first in a bang-bang play. I wouldn’t want to do it. Then again, I’m not getting paid six figures to do it. What’s more, I’d be willing to admit my frequent mistakes or at least not try to make it all about me.

I’d probably also realize that no one out there gives a damn about me in the grand scheme of the game. Which means that I’d probably not think a public act of defiance would really help things.

I have always displayed the utmost respect for umpires, even now when my playing is limited to slow-pitch softball. It’s often a thankless job that some great people undertake purely out of their love of the game. These MLB umpires, however, are highly-paid professionals who should be as good at their jobs as the men playing the sport they’re officiating, relatively speaking. So when frequent, egregious errors are made, I have a hard time drumming up any sympathy.

Not to mention it’s ironic as hell that this whole white wristband deal was spurred by an “attack” on Hernandez, who earlier this month filed a lawsuit against MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred for racial discrimination. In closing, I’d like to offer MLB’s esteemed collection of umpires a small bit of advice, though I must admit, I borrowed said nugget of wisdom from a man who referred to recent call as “asinine.”

Try not to suck.

Swarm it up, Matt

We’ve profiled a lot of pitching prospects over the course of the season and we like to pay attention to all reaches of the Cubs organization, which is why it was no surprise to hear that Matt Swarmer…wait, who the hell is Matt Swarmer? I can’t even type his name right, just keep defaulting to Schwarber. And I have this sudden, inexplicable hankering for spit-roasted, shaved meat.

In any case, the 2016 19th round draft pick out of Kutztown University of Pennsylvania pinged the radar last night when he jumped all the way from low-A South Bend to twirl a gem of a start for AAA Iowa in Nashville. Swarmer went seven shutout innings, allowing only five hits and walking one while striking out eight.

Is it just me or is there a little funk in that delivery?

You often see moves like this late in the season as players are shuffled around between teams to provide a little help for the stretch run. But the I-Cubs aren’t in playoff contention and you’d think there’s at last one pitcher at AA Tennessee — only a couple hours away from Music City — who could have moved up. So I’m at a bit of a loss to really understand why it was Swarmer who was picked to make the trip from Lansing, where the SB Cubs had been playing.

Of course, that journey is nothing compared to the leap across three levels of the system. The 6-foot-5, 175-pound righty began the season as a reliever/piggyback starter in South Bend before heading to short-season Eugene to stretch out as a starter. He had only returned to Indiana at the beginning of August, making three appearances (two starts) in which he allowed 13 earned runs on 16 hits (five HR) over 12 innings.

That’s, I mean…it’s not good. So what in the blue hell were the Cubs doing? It’s almost like some sort of clerical error where Jason McLeod had sent to note to Iowa staff back in July to get Schwarber on a plane and they just now got it and read it wrong. Then again, maybe there’s something in this kid’s personal development path that told the Cubs this was the right move.

Swarmer did strike out 13 against only three walks over those recent outings in South Bend, and our Todd Johnson had written on his Cubs Central site earlier this month that the 23-year-old was dialing in both the fastball command and the slider. McLeod and player development director Jaron Madison may have felt that he’d be able to make the jump. Or maybe this was a wild hair, a way for them to experiment a little in an environment that really had zero consequences.

When you get down to it, player development is more about the mental side of the game than anything, so seeing how a player reacts to pressure and various different stimuli could give the execs a great look into who he’ll be. It’s like in Deadpool, when Ajax puts Wade Wilson through all manner of torture in order to catalyze his mutation.

Whatever the case, it’s pretty cool to see an off-the-radar pitching prospect jumping up and making a name for himself like this. Please don’t take that to mean that Swarmer has established himself and that the next step is Chicago. He’ll likely head back down and resume a more gradual progression from this point forward. But it’s a fun story, for sure.

Javy’s a freak show

For the second consecutive game, Javy Baez made a freak-nasty play deep in the hole at short to help seal a victory.

Not much else to say about that.

Short stop

This Rundown is a little shorter than usual since I’m actually heading to the game today with the family. We’ll be sitting in the bleachers for the first time, so I’m looking forward to some Hot Doug’s action and maybe having someone recognize me and buy me a beer. I’ll be the one checking his phone constantly between frequent admonishments of his kids.

More news and notes

  • The Cubs acquired catcher Rene Rivera on waivers from the Mets, DFA’ing Aaron Brooks to make room on the 40-man roster.
  • Myrtle Beach lefty Tommy Thorpe was also called up to Iowa, so there’s a veritable swarm of A-ball players moving up.
  • Lucas Giolito, acquire by the White Sox from the Nationals as part of the package for Adam Eaton, is set to make his MLB debut Tuesday.
  • Aroldis Chapman has been removed from the closer role with the Yankees, which no one could have foreseen after the Cubs rode him hard and put him up wet last year.
  • The Dodgers have placed Yu Darvish on the 10-day DL with lower back tightness. This hasn’t been a good season for stud pitchers on contending teams.
  • In other Dodgers news, they acquired Curtis Granderson from the Mets for the ubiquitous money/PTBNL option.
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