Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper argues with home plate umpire Alex Tosi, left, while being held back by Phillies first base coach Paco Figueroa after Harper was thrown out of the game by Tosi during the third inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Oh no! 

That pitch was decidedly outside the strike zone, but the umpire called it a strike anyway. 

Moments ago, you had your whole at-bat in front of you. You were free to take close ones on the edge or swing away if you were feeling frisky. Maybe you’d even take your timeout!

Those days are over. Now it’s a two-strike count, and you’re at the mercy of the umpire. But it’s not mercy he was displaying when he called that last pitch a strike, and he probably just got a little thrill when you swing and miss at the next one and make his job even easier. 

Now you’re out. The at-bat is over. 

What was once a bright future is now a dismal walk back to the dugout. 

For a moment, you are blinded by rage; stuck in an undesired outcome you can’t escape. The umpire has made a terrible, objectively incorrect call. And you know that ultimately, nothing’s going to change that — not when it’s the difference between a ball and a strike. Yelling at him won’t change his mind. But it still might feel pretty good.

What you do next will determine how many more at-bats you can look forward to today. 

Sure, you’re the one who took a mighty hack at that curveball to strike out, but strike two had been high and outside of the zone. Consult any cartoon rectangle they put on screen: The dot representing that second strike will be outside of it. How have we advanced science this far, but still haven’t corrected an umpire’s poor judgment? 

Do you gently place the bat on the ground and stare coldly at the horizon as you remove your batting gloves? Do you take a few steps back toward the dugout to hand the bat boy your stuff? Do you look up at the sky, say a few words to — but not in the direction of — the umpire in hopes that your commentary will go unnoticed, but not unsaid? Do you try one of your classic moves from your younger days and draw a line in the dirt to wordlessly indicate where that pitch was? Umpires loved that one.  

Maybe. Or maybe this ire growing rapidly in your gut is the culmination of a lot of other things: Your team’s frustrating play of late, your own personal lack of production at the plate, your boiling intensity as the regular season winds down with playoff seeding still to be determined. 

And judging by the fact that you’re still standing there, long after the final strike of the final out has been called, chances are, that’s the kind of thing it is. After all, your at-bat is over. The game is moving on. 

But you’re not ready yet. 

No, all you’ve got is your unchecked anger and a bat in your hands. And you know exactly what to do next. 

Throwing your bat: It’s the best. Nothing satiates that quivering rage within like hurling your stuff around. There it goes! Boy, you really whipped that one over there. That’s got to be, like, 80 feet. Not bad for a guy who was recovering from Tommy John surgery just months ago. 

Oh boy. The ump didn’t like that. If he was waiting for a reason to escalate your exchange, well, he’s got one now. You’ve been issued an equipment fine for chucking your bat and helmet. But he hasn’t issued you a warning or anything. In fact, he hasn’t even said anything else to you. He’s just standing there, pretending to check his little card, waiting for you to do or say anything so that he can throw you out.

You’re a superstar. When an umpire throws you out of the game, it’s like slaying a dragon. He knows a lot of people in the audience are here to see you — yeah, you’re on the road, but some people have come here tonight to boo and chant cliches at you. What you do and don’t do will be covered in somebody’s lame blog post tomorrow at the very least. Putting you at the center of some drama will scratch this umpire’s itch to get a little attention. After all, why should you get all of it, just because you’re better at a sport than 99% of the people on this planet, and he’s just an incompetent malcontent with a little hat on??

Finally, after several tense moments of not screaming at each other, you go for it. Later, you don’t even really remember what it is you said; it was something about how much the ump sucks, though. You’re pretty positive of that. It was probably something you’ve said or shouted at an umpire before — ”You’ve got to be better,” and “It wasn’t even ****ing close!” are both in your rotation.

Either one of those can get you a hook, depending on the mood an umpire woke up in. That’s when umpires are at their best: when they’re cranky and wrong. They combine the two a lot. Just the other day, during a Pirates-Nationals game, Angel Hernandez had the worst accuracy rating in baseball in over a year, and he didn’t really want to hear about it. Not exactly out of character for him. 

You get in the ump’s face — why hold back now — and take casual swipes at your first base coach as he comes over to try to resolve the conflict (or at least conclude it). You’ve been kicked out of the game, so you’re going to say your piece. And your piece is very loud and full of spittle. 

With a lame, limp wave of his arm, the umpire ejects you. The mostly-empty Cardinals stadium gives a sad little cheer. 

But this guy who just tossed you — he’s got a whole plan. You may think the ejection ends when you leave the field, but for him, things are just getting started.

Later, he and the other umpires are going to watch the Cardinals’ Alec Burleson pretend to get hit by a pitch and you’ll be stunned how easily fooled they are. They’ll even watch it a second time in slow motion, taking as long as they want to view it, and still decide, after careful examination of the footage, that he was, indeed, struck by the pitch. 

He was not

Who knows? Maybe it was just a day of bad calls and your team took the brunt of them. Or maybe the umpire just wasn’t feeling particularly generous anymore because you hurt his feelings. 

You think back to past ejections from your career: When you got ejected for yelling from the dugout even though you weren’t even in the lineup that day after getting hit in the head with a pitch. When you got called out on a pitch that wasn’t a strike but didn’t get ejected for arguing about it until four batters later, forcing your manager to get ejected as well, even though he wasn’t feeling a fraction of the emotion that you were. When they sent you to the showers for charging at the Rockies dugout because some random pitcher barked a few adult words at your teammates. 

It happens about twice a year for you, you realize. Typically you get ejected once early in the season and again in the second half, usually in the midst of a few games in which you just aren’t getting the bat on the ball. An umpire’s poor judgment is eternal, but your instinct to scream at them is more cyclical. 

Your day is over. You head back to the clubhouse. Already, your frustration has turned back into malaise. You’ll spend the rest of the evening in a folding chair and come back tomorrow, emotionally reset. According to your personal history, you won’t feel the urge to get the heave-ho again until next spring. 

Maybe this umpire will have learned how to call a game by then. 

Justin Klugh has been a Phillies fan since Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. He is a columnist and features writer for Baseball Prospectus, and has written for The Inquirer, Baltimore Magazine,...