It’s pretty rare that we’ll write about something two years after it happens. Baseball is a fickle mistress. Two years after Bryan LaHair was an All-Star, he was playing abroad. A year after Mets went to the World Series, they lost in the Wild Card game, and a year after that, they won 70 games. A lot can change in two years, is the point.
Nevertheless, I’m going to take you down memory lane. To May of 2016, to be precise. The setting is a game between the Mets and Dodgers. Chase Utley is the batter; Noah Syndergaard is the pitcher. And for added emphasis, there’s history here – Chase Utley, you will remember, famously broke Ruben Tejada’s leg during the 2015 National League Division Series.
The next time the Mets faced Utley, all hell broke loose.
Noah Syndergaard buzzed Utley with a 99 mph fastball and was promptly ejected. The entire Mets infield argued vigorously, but the most emphatic argument came from Terry Collins, who is not nearly as geriatric or mild-mannered as one might suppose from his visage. And, for reasons known only to the baseball gods, the recording of this argument somehow only just came out last week.
Now, the game itself played out in a fairly Mets-like manner: after watching Syndergaard’s fastball sail behind him, Chase Utley went on to hit not one, but two, homers and lead the Dodgers to a 9-1 drubbing. But you don’t care about that, really. No, what you care about is the part of the video where umpire Tom Hallion calms down an angry Mets infield, and then turns to deal with a literally hopping mad Terry Collins. The resulting profanity-laced discussion between Hallion and Collins is — and I say this with absolute certainty — the best thing to come out of the 2016 baseball season.
Unbelievably, the most interesting part of the story might not actually be the video itself, but what happened after it went viral. Within hours, MLB began pulling it off the internet with copyright claims. The Associated Press, via ESPN, explains why:
“We made a commitment to the umpires that if they would wear microphones, certain types of interactions that we all know go on the field would not be aired publicly,” [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred said Thursday after the owners meetings ended. “We promised them that. It’s in the collective bargaining agreement. We had no choice in a situation like that than to do everything possible to live up to our agreement. It is Labor Relations 101. To not do that is the kind of breach of trust that puts you in a bad spot over the long haul,” he said.
Manfred is referring to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and umpires, which is not the same as the CBA between MLB and players. The umpires are part of a union called the World Umpires Association, which represents them in labor negotiations with MLB. Jason Foster of MSN passes along just what those regulations about umpire audio say:
“Those guidelines state that all audio from umpire microphones that are not aired during the telecast are to be deleted immediately after the game,” MLB said in statement to SN on Thursday, adding that a review is underway to determine how the Collins audio was leaked.
And relations between MLB and the WUA generally aren’t too cozy. Litigation, for instance, is far more common in this relationship than it is between MLB and players, and last year WUA members formally protested verbal attacks on umpires by players and coaches by wearing white wristbands. So it makes some sense, then, that Manfred and MLB would want to avoid an unnecessary kerfuffle in the widespread distribution of this video.
Which leads to another question, however: if umpire audio really is supposed to be deleted immediately after a game, then why was this particular item available to be leaked in the first place? In light of the arrangement between the umpires and the league, it should probably have never have existed — and certainly not more than two full years later. If the WUA wanted to take an action for breach of the CBA, then the legal basis for doing so — that is, the breach of the CBA itself — was complete as soon as that game ended and the video wasn’t deleted. That it achieved widespread distribution merely goes to damages, and MLB’s attempts to stop its spread go to mitigation rather than anything else.
And yet, on the other hand, it’s not at all clear that this is something the WUA should want quashed. After all, Hallion — profanity aside — did a fairly good job of keeping the lid on a potentially explosive situation, and was, at least in my opinion, professional in doing it. The video shows Hallion representing the WUA well. At the same time, it also shows the sort of verbal attacks which the WUA was protesting last year, and really makes you understand more just how hard an umpire’s job really can be.
And then, of course, there’s one final matter — namely, whether other examples of such audio exist. It’s possible that the Collins-Haillon encounter is an isolated incident. It almost might not be, though. It wouldn’t be surprising if this were a question the WUA is attempting to answer. After all, the next video may not be so benign, for anyone involved.
Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.