It’s been a while since I opened the old mailbag, but as promised on Twitter the other night, Intrepid Reader @andyrut sent in his surreal interaction with umpire Eric Cooper. Cooper called balls and strikes in game two and showed off his patented wide, and ever changing, strike zone.
In NLCS Game 2 you might say umpire Eric Cooper’s strike zone was inconsistent. But it probably wasn’t any more inconsistent than it was twelve seasons ago in the regular season when Kerry Wood threw a perfect curveball to Adam Dunn that Cooper called a ball for a base on balls. In that game, Wood charged and yelled at Cooper once removed from the the game and Wood got ejected. The game recap can be found here: http://usatoday30.usatoday.
That very day I astutely posted on my personal blog (no longer in service) that umpire Eric Cooper was a “dumbass” and forgot about it.
Sometime during the offseason I received an e-mail from an “Eric Cooper” at an AOL account (!) with a phone number asking me to call him. So I did.
At first the phone call was just him shouting things at me:
“I don’t appreciate you calling me a dumbass, ‘pencilneck’.”
“How would you like it if I came to your work and criticized what you do?”
“Do you know the strike zone is 17 inches wide? If if you don’t know that, you don’t have any right to criticize what I do.”
“As an umpire, I have really thick skin, you know.”
The responses to his barbs were obvious:
“I don’t appreciate you calling me ‘pencilneck’, I guess we’re even.”
“I didn’t go to to your work, 40,000 people criticized you at your work that day, I posted something on the Internet.”
“I don’t think knowing the width of the strike zone makes any difference when that curveball was over the plate.”
“If you really had thick skin we wouldn’t be having this conversation”.
But I didn’t say any of these, I just said “uh huh” to everything he had to say and let him shout. After a few minutes of shouting, his tone began to change and he became awfully polite. He explained that Wood had called him up to apologize and that the incident was behind him. He ended the phone call with “if there’s every anything you want to know about umpiring, let me know.”
The phone call was bizarre, but perhaps even more bizarre was that Cooper was googling himself, looking to pick fights with bloggers. I couldn’t find any combination of words besides “eric cooper dumbass” that led to my obscure little website, so was he that specific in his searches? Perhaps I’ll never know.
Yikes. A major league umpire spent his offseason Googling his own name plus the word “dumbass” and then handed out this phone number to those he found? I know umpires have a tough job and it takes a certain personality to even want to do it in the first place, but it’s crap like this, and the ever-moving strike zone that Cooper had in game two that makes you want to fire up the roboumps to, at the very least call balls and strikes.
What’s really frustrating is that Major League Baseball still doesn’t use a grading system to assign umpires for postseason duty. They claim they use performance to eliminate the possibility of the season’s worst umpires form getting into the playoff rotation, but there’s now way that can be true. Eric Cooper and Angel Hernandez are not only on the NLCS umpiring crew, but both will have home plate during the first four games of the series (Angel has game four). Cooper is infamous for that strike zone, Angel is infamous for just being a completely terrible umpire. (And for kicking Steve McMichael out of a game for insulting him during the seventh inning stretch.)
Hey, at least, Marty Foster hasn’t had a game yet…