Kangaroo Court: Passing judgment on Tigers alleged home-plate umpire beef

In keeping with ancient baseball tradition, we're passing final and lasting judgment on a recent baseball controversy. That's why we call this Kangaroo Court -- it's a nod to the old days when a veteran player would preside over clubhouse "legal proceedings" and mete out fines based on baseball-related offenses. For instance, if you fail to advance a runner, take too long rounding the bases, wear the wrong jersey to batting practice, or in the case of former Red Sox manager John McNamara use aerosol deodorant as hairspray, you get fined by the judge. These days, the Kangaroo Court is a clubhouse relic of the past, but we're here to revive it and to bring the mechanisms of baseball justice to bear on present-day dust-ups, hostilities, and close calls. 

Wednesday afternoon the scorching-hot Cleveland Indians won their 21st consecutive game (CLE 5, DET 3), giving them the longest winning streak in American League history. Truly remarkable. Baseball teams, even ones as good as the Indians, aren't supposed to win 21 straight games.

Our latest Kangaroo Court controversy occurred during Cleveland's win Wednesday, though it does not involve the Indians. In the third inning Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and catcher James McCann were both ejected by home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott for arguing balls and strikes. Arguing balls and strikes is a no-no. An automatic ejection, technically, though umps usually give players and managers some leeway.

Shortly after the ejections pitcher Buck Farmer threw a fastball that catcher John Hicks, newly into the game, failed to catch, allowing it to hit Wolcott directly in the shoulder. He went down in pain. Here's the play:

During the game the Indians broadcast booth implied Hicks missed the catch intentionally so Wolcott would get hit by the pitch. Everyone with the Tigers of course denied it. Here's what Ausmus told reporters after the game:

"I heard the Indians broadcast. To imply that that was intentional is, first of all, a lie," Ausmus said. "If any player on this team intentionally tried to hurt an umpire, we'd deal with that severely. But for anyone to imply that that was intentional, that's completely wrong ... They're out of line saying that, quite frankly."  

Needless to say, suggesting Farmer and Hicks -- or even Hicks without Farmer's knowledge -- intended to let the pitch hit Wolcott is a serious allegation. It implies intent to injure. What do we here at CBS Sports think? Five of our baseball experts chimed in on the Tigers-Wolcott feud. Did the Tigers allow the pitch to hit Farmer intentionally?

Ruling from five CBS Sports experts

R.J. Anderson: No ... but I get why people are skeptical. The timing and the circumstances before and after certainly make this more suspicious than your typical "umpire gets hit by the pitch" play. That said, I'd like to think Hicks, Farmer, and the Tigers as a whole are professionals -- and, above that, human beings -- who are unwilling to be so petty as to expose another unsuspecting human to harm over a game.

Mike Axisa: No, though it certain looks more suspicious than usual given the circumstances. These men are all professionals who work with each other constantly -- this surely won't be the last time Wolcott is behind the plate for Farmer and/or Hicks -- and the last thing any player wants to do is create bad blood with an umpire. Were Farmer and Hicks upset by the strike zone and the ejections? Yeah, probably. Enough to do something that could potentially seriously injure Wolcott? No way. What if that pitch hit him in the face mask instead of the shoulder? No, I do not believe it was intentional even though the optics are bad.

Dayn Perry: I think it looks bad, but I'll say no, it wasn't intentional, mostly because it's a very serious allegation. As such, I don't feel comfortable accusing the Tigers of this without harder evidence. We know the timeline -- the Tigers were angry over Wolcott's strike zone, and long after McCann and Ausmus were run, Wolcott gets nailed. The most damning bit of circumstantial evidence for me is that Hicks didn't check on the umpire, even after he'd retrieved the ball. It looked suspicious. That said, there's plausible deniability. Runners were on base and a new catcher was in the game -- those are ideal conditions for getting crossed up, and that's what the Tigers say happened. Ausmus and Farmer were also pretty stern and unequivocal in their postgame denials, which counts for a little something. This looked bad to me at the time, but, again, I'm not comfortable saying the Tigers did something this serious without stronger evidence.

Jonah Keri: What Dayn said. There's no way I can throw around an accusation like that without definitive evidence. I'm also uncomfortable trying to guess what's in a person's head. This by the way is why I find accusations of "Player X doesn't try/has no heart/was scared of the moment" to be absolutely idiotic. As if some guy watching on TV or from the press box can actually know that. Please.

Matt Snyder: Having the catcher let a pitch go in order to intentionally hit -- and possibly hurt -- an umpire is something sub-par 15-year-old players do so they can brag to their friends about how good they "got him back." Even by the standards of run-of-the-mill varsity high school baseball, it's Mickey Mouse and Bush League crap that isn't tolerated by anyone with any semblance of class. True professionals don't deal with this nonsense and the Tigers aren't an exception. No chance it was intentional. 

And there you have it. The five CBS Sports experts are in agreement Farmer and Hicks did not intentionally allow that pitch to hit Wolcott, despite the arguments and ejections earlier in the inning.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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