Catchers confess Cubs' Wilkins isn't only one to upset an ump

SIDELIGHT

June 23, 1994|By Lori Van Lonkhuyzen | Lori Van Lonkhuyzen,Sun Staff Writer

The early theory on the ejection of Chicago Cubs catcher Rick Wilkins Tuesday night was that Wilkins deliberately let a pitch pass and hit the umpire. Although later it was discovered that Wilkins was ejected for something he said after being criticized by the third base umpire for not protecting his fellow arbiter, the situation sparked questions.

Would a catcher really let a ball pass deliberately?

Orioles experts said no, but acknowledged it is not uncommon for catchers to get in trouble for appearing to allow a pitch to go by.

"Terry Tata accused me of doing that one time," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates, a former catcher. "But I did not do it. I just got crossed up. I set up down and away, looking for a breaking ball and he threw a good fastball."

A similar situation befell bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks when he was an Orioles catcher.

"We were in Milwaukee," he said. "Paul Mitchell was pitching and he had the worst eyes. We used outside signs with him and he still crossed me up. I was looking for a curveball and he threw a fastball and it hit the umpire, Armando Rodriguez, right in the mask.

"Hank Aaron was the hitter. The ball ricocheted up into the screen. I immediately turned to [Rodriguez] and I asked him if he was OK. And even though he was stunned by it, he said to me, 'If it was anybody else, I'd have run you out of the game, but I've known you for a long time and I know you would not do that.' "

Wilkins was thrown out of the game by umpire Bruce Froemming after Wilkins failed to catch a swinging third strike and the ball hit plate umpire Jerry Crawford. Wilkins and Froemming have a history of bad blood. Last year, Froemming was injured when he was hit by a pitch Wilkins failed to catch.

Broadcasters on Chicago's WGN speculated that Wilkins was ejected because he deliberately let the pitch go by him, but Froemming called ESPN last night to say it was because of something Wilkins said.

"Froemming attacked me in a malicious way and asked me why I did it," Wilkins said. "I got crossed up. I called for a forkball and he [rookie Steve Trachsel] threw a fastball."

The Orioles' Chris Hoiles defended his Chicago counterpart.

"From a catching standpoint, why would you let a ball go by anyway?" Hoiles said. "There's times when pitchers cross you up and you're expecting one pitch and they throw another . . . sometimes it's hard to adjust to. There's a lot of times the ball hits the umpire on a wild pitch or something like that."

"I know as a catcher it's real tough for you to sit back there and say, 'I'm going to miss this pitch,' " said Orioles third base coach Jerry Narron, who caught 311 games in the big leagues. "It's almost impossible with the batter swinging. I missed some, but not on purpose."

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