How To Get Ejected From a Baseball Game
Be the organist. Or the DJ. Or the intern. Then play "Three Blind Mice."
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.
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Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?
Those are the modern words to "Three Blind Mice," that pleasant enough English nursery rhyme that we all remember from our youth. Back in the early 17th century, when the folk round was first published, that language was completely different. Words like scrapte and licke made it seem more sinister, as did the purported reference to Queen Mary ordering the execution of defiant bishops. Today, the song has lost those sharp edges for everyone but one small group: those beleaguered souls who make a living calling balls and strikes.
Consider Mario Seneca. Last month, the minor league umpire ejected a Daytona Cubs intern after the 21-year-old University of Illinois student dared to play “Three Blind Mice” over the park’s public address system in protest of a close call. As you can hear in the video below, Seneca points to the sky and shouts “You’re gone!” The reaction of the Cubs’ broadcaster: “That is absolutely awesome!”
Fans at Jackie Robinson Ballpark immediately booed the fully sighted Seneca, who Deadspin later deemed “the most sensitive umpire in baseball history.” The unpaid intern, who was fined $25 by the Florida State League for getting thrown out of the game, parlayed his infamy into a handful of media appearances. He even made it to SportsCenter.
Seneca, meanwhile, has made no public comments, allowing the sports media to make like an angry manager and rain spittle on his expressionless face. Justin Klemm, executive director of the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp., which governs minor league umps, says this silence is intentional. “Mario has decided not to talk about this and we’re respecting his wishes,” Klemm told me.
If Seneca won’t defend himself, Kevin O’Connor will. An umpire evaluator for Major League Baseball who spent 10 years behind the plate himself, O’Connor had a similar brush with notoriety in 1985. As he tells it, O’Connor was working a game in the Florida State League when a coach got in another ump’s face about an inning-ending call at first base. “That’s when Wilbur started playing ‘Three Blind Mice,’ ” O’Connor says. “I threw him out immediately and I was backed by the league 100 percent because I told him earlier in the season he couldn’t do that.”
Wilbur was Wilbur Snapp, a ballpark organist whose quick thinking and subsequent heaving won him mentions from Willard Scott and Paul Harvey, along with requests to sign autographs as “Wilbur Snapp, Three Blind Mice organist.” When he died 18 years after he got the thumb, the New York Times saw fit to run his obituary: “Wilbur Snapp, 83, Organist Ejected by Ump.”
O’Connor insists that snapping on Snapp was the right call, and not just because he’d already warned him against playing the song. Playing “Three Blind Mice”—well, it’s “just not done,” O’Connor says. While he admits that “from an outsider’s view it’s funny,” to an umpire “it’s a derogatory thing that’s only going to incite the crowd. … It’s not cute when you’re the guy on the field and you don’t know what the reaction’s going to be.”
Both O’Connor and Seneca are backed by the PBUC manual, along with decades of precedent. Fans and managers and players have been questioning umpires’ eyesight since the day baseball was invented. Bob Emslie, who began umping in the 1880s, was given the nickname “Blind Bob” by legendary manager John McGraw. A more general pejorative, “Blind Tom,” became associated with baseball arbiters in the early 20th century.