WEDNESDAY NIGHT SUMMER RERUN: Foul ball in South Milwaukee

EVERY WEDNESDAY NIGHT THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER, I’M RE-POSTING SOME OLD BLOGS I THOUGHT WERE INTERESTING AND WORTH A SECOND LOOK, OR A FIRST GLANCE FOR MY MANY NEW READERS.

Last month Stateline published an in-depth piece about proposed legislation in Wisconsin that would increase penalties and fines for assaulting or abusing referees. The issue has been debated in our state for decades but hasn’t gone very far.

I spoke and wrote about the controversy back in September of 2007:

Last month while filling in on WISN, one of my topics generated a storm of caller reaction. It involved an altercation between an umpire and a player at a softball game in South Milwaukee on August 3.

To re-cap:

In the second inning, one of the players up to bat squares to bunt and lays one down and is now dashing down the line to first place. The home plate umpire, a 32-year sports officiating veteran, also runs down the first base line and immediately calls the batter out. It’s the right call. Bunting in co-ed slo-pitch softball is not allowed and is an automatic out.

The player starts spewing loud profanities at the umpire who immediately ejected the player. As the umpire turns to walk back to home plate, the batter is now incensed and charges him. In the process, he pushes the umpire.

The two are belly to belly in a scene that looks like something out of ESPN Sportscenter. There are more profanities from the player who is right in the umpire’s face, and the umpire slightly pushes the player to get him off and create some safe distance. Now the umpire sees the player clenching a fist and he seriously thought he was about to get punched.

At that point, fans are coming out of the stands to get between the umpire and the player, and are pulling the player away.

Since he was ejected, the player, who is about 25 years old, is ordered to leave the premises. He does leave, but upon exiting telephones the South Milwaukee Police. Two officers arrive at the diamond and interview two witnesses, even though there were plenty more.

Now the officers talk to the umpire, telling him the player accused him of choking him.

“Why did you push him?” one of the officers asked the umpire. Explaining that he wanted to have the player back off so he could be at a safe distance, the umpire said he saw a clenched fist and didn’t want to be punched.

An officer then said the players accused the umpire of grabbing him by the collar. Not possible, replied the umpire because the player had a t-shirt on and wasn’t wearing a collar.

The officers left the park and the game resumed without incident. Afterwards, the umpire went to the South Milwaukee Police Department and inquired about filing charges, claiming the player committed a felony. The police would not allow him to file charges and said no felony occurred, that there was no felony on the books in Wisconsin pertaining to such cases.

They also told the umpire he could have walked away from the altercation. Again, this demonstrates a total ignorance of the volatile situation. Officials in all sports are trained to never turn their backs on an angry player for fear the official could get Pearl Harbored.

Adding insult to injury, before the umpire left the police station, he was informed the player was getting a $168 disorderly conduct ticket…..and so was he. It was handed to the umpire before he left.

Just a few more details…the player has a reputation of being a hothead, his father is a sports official, and his father is a local sheriff’s deputy.

I spoke about this incident while filling in on WISN last month and my phone lines were jammed. Just about every caller sided with the umpire. I could have done the entire three-hour show on this topic.

One of the people listening was South Milwaukee Police Chief Ann Wellens.

She didn’t appreciate the fact that I said on the air that the police weren’t aware of battery against a sports official being a felony.

Wellens said her officers were correct in telling the umpire the offense is not a felony.

Just prior to going on the air that day, a legal source of mine told me it was a felony, so I went with that. I was given misinformation, and I misspoke on the air. During a later broadcast on the same topic I admitted my error and stated my regrets. I didn’t learn the correct information until after the broadcast. The Legislature has been debating this issue since the 1980’s, but has failed to increase penalties. That’s a topic for another day.

I also had a long and cordial conversation with Chief Wellens. Despite my error, I told her that I stood by the rest of my broadcast: her officers did a less than thorough investigation, they should not have told the umpire he could have and should have walked away. The umpire should not have been given a citation, and that there is a perception that her department was going to give partial treatment to the player.

The chief told me she was not aware of my career-long support of all law enforcement. She apparently believed she knew enough about me to tell WISN management that I was rude and ignorant.

I was astounded that Chief Wellens had little sympathy for the umpire. As I stood by my stance that he should not have been ticketed, the chief said that the umpire would have his day in court, that he could get a lawyer and gather evidence and present his case.

My immediate response to the Chief:

“He shouldn’t have to.”

He did nothing wrong. Why should he have to go through all this hassle? This is why too many citizens have ill feelings about the police.

I understand the chief was defending her officers. I am sure that they are good officers. It is my view that they didn’t handle this particular incident properly.

The chief also told me that her department received several nasty and offensive calls as a result of my broadcast. While I feel badly about that, I told her that I cannot be blamed for those calls. I certainly didn’t instruct anyone to call and complain, and I never would advocate any such treatment of our fine police officers. I also addressed that part of this story on the air.

As I stated in a previous blog:

This story isn’t over. A hearing is scheduled for (Friday) September 28 in South Milwaukee. The City Attorney needs to drop the ticket against the umpire and consider more serious charges against the player. Otherwise, it sends a terrible message that in South Milwaukee, athletes are given notice that it’s open hunting season on officials.

—September 27, 2007

Two days later, September 29, 2007:

The city attorney in South Milwaukee has tossed out the disorderly conduct charge issued against an umpire in an incident I talked about extensively on WISN and also blogged about.

A similar charge is still pending against the player who went after the umpire.

As I contended all along, the case should have never gotten to this point. The umpire did nothing wrong, and the South Milwaukee police and the city of South Milwaukee wasted a lot of time and effort on this one.

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