UMPIRE SHOWS UP DOG ON OPENING NIGHT: WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
Baseball umpire Tom Woodring learned a cold, hard lesson: Don’t mess with a crowd-pleasing animal act.
On a frigid, windswept night, Woodring became an instant villain Tuesday. He riled a capacity crowd of 11,000-plus by disrespecting Finn the Bat Dog, a fixture at Las Vegas 51s games for several years now.
It happened in the first inning of the debut of the Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Las Vegas Aviators. Formerly known as the 51s, they are the Oakland A’s affiliate in the Class Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
The beloved black Labrador shows off his bat-retrieving prowess during the first three innings. Finn’s routine: Race to home plate, retrieve the bat and return it to his owner, Fred Hassen, by jumping up on a plastic red fire hydrant and presenting it to Hassen.
Woodring reached down at the same time Finn arrived at the discarded bat. Instead of yielding to Finn, Woodring grabbed it and flung it toward the Aviators’ dugout. He didn’t appear to be enjoying Finn’s showmanship.
Boos rained down from the stands. Woodring's icy reception to Finn went viral. ESPN, the Dan Patrick Show, major websites, “even the MLB Network,” showed the clip, said Jim Gemma, media relations director for the Aviators. Not the best publicity for a minor league umpire hoping to return to The Big Show.
Woodring got lit up among 80-some comments on ESPN’s website:
“If he couldn’t see the pup going for the bat, he definitely can’t see the strike zone.” -- @BubbaJones05
“Rule 1: Work the game and don’t do anything that will draw attention to yourself...you showed-up a dog. Hopefully, your season get better from here.” -- @BRCS_GirlsBB
“Finn deserves more treats after this! Deduct it from that ump’s paycheck.” -- @neos_girl
“I guarantee the dog is better at his job.” -- @bnabuckeye1
“We need more bat dogs and fewer umpires!”-- @citizenlarrys
“Must be a cat lover.”-- @Allie_Doc
“That ump just got instant nuclear heat.”-- @_REESE_JOHNSON
“The other umps should have tossed him from the game.” @Absolu1eZero
It’s unlikely the blowback will end anytime soon.
He’s a local, it turns out. Born in Las Vegas, he played for Tim Chambers at Bishop Gorman High for two years before transferring to Foothill High School in Henderson. He was a volunteer baseball coach there. Also in the off-season he was a head instructor at the Las Vegas Baseball Academy.
He began his career in Minor League Baseball in 2007 in the Gulf Coast League and worked the California and Eastern Leagues before his promotion to Triple-A.
His major league debut came on April 16, 2014 at Yankee Stadium. He was the third base umpire for the Yankees-Cubs and went on to umpire hundreds of big league games.
Was he reacting to Finn out of a desire to speed up play or did he have an issue with a dog being a batboy?
I tried to reach Woodring and Hassen for comment through various channels but didn’t hear back.
“I don’t know what the (he) was thinking,” said Gemma.
The storm of negative publicity isn’t likely to help Woodring’s return to the big leagues.
Many umpires have long despised the presence of mascots of any kind at ballparks.
August 23 will be the 30th anniversary of perhaps the most infamous mascot ejection. It happened in Montreal, when the Expos’ mascot, Youppi, was ejected by umpire Bob Daviidson after Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda protested his presence on Los Angeles’ dugout.
The game had stretched into extra innings and, in the 11th, Youppi changed into pajama-like nightwear and wore a nightcap. With a pillow in hand he laid down on the top of the visiting team’s dugout and began pounding on it. Lasorda lobbied that it was a distraction and lodged a complaint. Davidson tossed Youppi, who responded by tossing his pillow and his nightcap in disgust. Epic booing ensued. Scoreless at the time, the game eventually went 22 innings, with the Dodgers winning 1-0 after six hours and 14 minutes.
(Full disclosure: Norm Clarke is the proud owner of two Silky Terriers named Rumor and Scandal. His wife, Cara, says they are going to adopt a third and name it Retraction.)