Wednesday’s Diamondbacks–Marlins game in Miami was the setting of what was the most recent unintentionally comedic episode of The Ump Show.
Madison Bumgarner, who started the game for the D-backs, was ejected after the first inning by first base umpire Dan Bellino during what should have been a routine sticky stuff inspection. It was a puzzling scene. It’s immediately clear upon watching the clip of the ejection that MadBum wasn’t tossed for cheating. He simply had the ass. Which absolutely checks out. After all, this is Bumgarner, the oldest 32-year-old pitcher the game has ever known. But there was more to the ejection than that.
So what set off MadBum? Neither Bellino, nor Bumgarner got into the specifics when addressing the ejection after the game. “It was just a hand check,” Bellino told a pool reporter. “[Bumgarner] made some inappropriate comments and was removed from the game.”
Meanwhile, Bumgarner told reporters, “You guys have seen the video. … You guys have all seen it, and you can go back and see it all again, and it’s pretty clear.”
The video he’s talking about is actually multiple video clips, which show the interaction from different camera angles. In one of them is a closeup of the foreign substance check. It captures Bellino feeling MadBum’s hand for the better part of 30 seconds and staring at him. When the umpire finally lets go, Bumgarner says something about how long it took for Bellino to see his hand and begins to walk away, and Bellino promptly ejects him.
Other than that, we’re left to our own conclusions. Plenty of people have assumed that Bellino was baiting Bumgarner because the pitcher had just committed the crime of showing up home plate umpire Ryan Wills. With two outs, Bumgarner thought he had struck out Marlins cleanup hitter Garrett Cooper. MadBum and several other Diamondbacks started walking off the field before Wills called the pitch a ball.
This interpretation of the situation is almost certainly the correct one. And yes, Bellino should have to answer for being an insecure whiner-baby, especially because he wasn’t even the one who made the ball call that Bumgarner disagreed with; in fact, Bellino wasn’t involved at all. He could have touched Bumgarner’s hands to make sure the pitcher wasn’t cheating and then let him go back to the dugout.
But there’s something else going on in the video, even if it isn’t quite based in reality. The ejection is hilarious, and it didn’t take long for the memes to start flooding social media. One of them is from BetSided managing editor Ben Heisler, who used to cover fantasy and gambling at Sports Illustrated.
With that, I’d like to present an alternative reading of what led to the ejection. Consider it my debut entry in the soon-to-be popular baseball literature subgenre: The Ump Show Fan Fiction.
Bellino caresses MadBum’s hand and looks straight ahead, longing for the pitcher to meet his gaze. It isn’t going as Bellino had planned.
The umpire wants this moment to be special. He’s been waiting for this intimate moment with the rugged, bearded Bumgarner, who for years also moonlighted as a rodeo star, for longer than he can remember. Now, their hands are touching, but there’s no magic.
Bumgarner looks up, puzzled and frustrated. Then, he looks down again. Bellino waits. Bumgarner looks up once more, and it’s then that Bellino understands: MadBum will never be anything more than Bellino’s unrequited love.
Bellino is crushed. His dreams of a life with Bumgarner are shattered. They won’t be driving pickup trucks together through the mucky backroads of rural North Carolina. They won’t ride horses or rope cattle or hock big ole loogies together as they grow old. Bellino knows it’s over. He lets go of Bumgarner’s hand.
Then comes the dagger. As they’re parting ways, Bumgarner says, Take your f—— time. That’s too much for Bellino to bear. Nothing makes sense anymore. Suddenly, Bellino is angry. He tells Bumgarner to leave.
Of course, Bumgarner doesn’t want to leave. After all, he just got here! He protests.
Just because I don’t love you doesn’t mean we can’t be friends! Bumgarner says. Don’t be so dramatic. Let me pitch!
Fighting back tears, Bellino turns his back on Bumgarner. He doesn’t know what to say, so he blurts out, I’m better off without you anyway!
Of course, Bellino doesn’t mean it. He’s lying to Bumgarner and himself. He knows he’ll regret it in the morning, but he doesn’t care. Bumgarner leaves. Bellino returns to his place behind first base to finish umpiring the game.
His irrational reaction is the story of the game and the gossip of the day. He knows people are talking about him. He knows they are saying he’s nuts. He knows this moment is going to overshadow everything that happens with him for the foreseeable future. He replays what happened over and over in his mind, wondering where it all went wrong.
The only way to explain it is this: Love makes people do crazy things! Bellino is no exception.
Indeed, Dan Bellino is not a petty umpire who is drunk on his own authority and thirsty for the spotlight. Rather, he is just a lovestruck, down-bad Romeo who couldn’t handle Bumgarner’s rejection.
Overcome with emotion, Bellino acted without thinking. The ejection was the facade Bellino erected to hide his pain.
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