CHICAGO – Josh Donaldson has no regrets about kicking dirt on home plate after hitting a home run Thursday, a demonstration of his exasperation with umpire Dan Bellino that earned him an ejection. “I think I nailed it, actually,” Donaldson said Saturday.
The Twins slugger said his confrontation with Bellino, in the sixth inning of Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the White Sox, was the result of a buildup of a series of irritations, not just one called strike that appeared to trigger the animosity and caused manager Rocco Baldelli to intervene. And at the root of it all, Donaldson said, is his frustration at what he sees as disregard by umpires, not just Bellino, toward getting calls correct, and Major League Baseball’s failure to hold them to high standards.
“[If] the umpire consistently isn’t doing [his] job correctly, that’s affecting our careers, that’s affecting our success. At the end of the day, there’s no reprimand, no accountability for the guys that are making the decision,” Donaldson said in a video call with reporters Saturday. “As a matter of fact, they don’t care. They don’t care at all, most of them. They just want to get the game over with, for the most part, and it’s pretty sad because guys are making six figures a year and there’s no accountability.”
MLB does hold players accountable, however, though Donaldson said he has not been contacted about any penalty for his actions. If he is, he said, “I’ll be as vocal as I want to about the certain individual that this was about.”
Donaldson — facing White Sox righthander Reynaldo Lopez with the score tied 2-2 in a critical game for the Twins’ hopes of winning the AL Central — took two pitches outside the strike zone, then a low slider that replays showed missed outside. Bellino called the pitch a strike, Donaldson argued, and Baldelli came out to support his player.
“I asked him very clearly, ‘Hey, I want to know where you had the pitch.’ I asked him three times, very clearly, and he couldn’t answer my question,” Donaldson said. “When Rocco came out, the umpire’s explanation was, ‘I think he’s just getting excited.’ No, I’m not getting excited, I’m asking you a question and you can’t answer it, and now you’re trying to revert the attention back to me.”
When the game resumed, Donaldson gave the Twins the lead by pummeling Lopez’s next pitch into the bullpen. As he approached home plate, he made eye contact with Bellino, slowed down and dragged his foot across the plate to cover it with dirt.
“He was wanting me to do something, so I gave it to him,” said Donaldson, who as soon as he was ejected returned to the plate and kicked more dirt on it. “I was like, ‘Look, if he really wants this attention, I’ll give it to him.’ ”
Baldelli said he discussed the incident with his third baseman afterward, and understands Donaldson’s frustration and why it boiled over that day. “He knows we need him out there, and I think he acknowledges that,” Baldelli said. “He also knows that he was beyond frustrated with what was going on out on the field, and frankly didn’t and doesn’t feel like there’s much that can be done about it, and that angers him and frustrates him. [It’s] something that I don’t know if, bigger-picture, he is totally regretful for.”
Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP with Toronto who signed a $94 million free-agent contract with the Twins in January, pointed out the huge impact that one ball or strike call can make in the success of an at-bat, and how a few at-bats can change the course of a career. Umpires therefore wield enormous power, he said, and he doesn’t believe all of them regard that authority with the seriousness it deserves.
“The players are the only ones who can hold these guys accountable, because there’s no fines or suspensions for these guys. They just go out and show up every day at 6 o’clock and they’re out of here 30 minutes after the game,” said Donaldson, who homered in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s 8-1 victory over the Cubs, his sixth of this pandemic-shortened season. “It doesn’t matter to them. They don’t realize we’re playing for our families, we’re playing for our livelihood.
“Fortunately for me, I have a contract. But at the same time, I want to win and compete. For a lot of these guys who do not [have a large contract], the difference between consistently bad calls against one individual can definitely affect their career one way or the other.”
Twins broadcaster Justin Morneau, himself a former AL MVP, had questioned on the air whether Donaldson’s ejection was smart, given the importance of the game to the Twins. On Saturday, Morneau asked Donaldson if he believed the ejection had made his point.
“I heard, Justin, you had a lot of people texting you and saying they were embarrassed. Well, I’m not,” Donaldson said. “This is my livelihood and this is part of what makes me the player I am.”