Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Hey Umpy! He was **##!!** Safe!
In the great game of baseball, and in every other game involving officials who make judgmental decisions, there will always be some disagreement. Baseball managers vocalize their objections from the dugout, until the opportunity arises for them to climb the steps to enter the fray. That is when the fun begins.
Managers most often leave the dugout to protect their players. If there is a close play, or a decision regarding balls and strikes, managers leap to the situation to try to keep their players in the game. They often physically intervene, butting in between the player and the umpire to plead the case. The number of instances when an umpire changes a call are miniscule, but do happen occasionally.
Managers will dispute calls to try to change the flow of a game. They will leave the dugout to try to make points for the next opportunity when an umpire needs to make a call---to attempt to “level the playing field to his or her advantage.” Perhaps the next decision will go the other way as a “Make up call”.
Earl Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles for seventeen years. He always had an opinion, and enjoyed sharing it with the umpires. Discussions would become arguments, leading to heated shouting matches. Umpires have their egos to protect, and some have nicely developed opinions about themselves. Earl had his axes to grind, his points to register.
When a manager “goes too far”, he is ejected, usually with a flamboyant arm gesticulation by the umpire. Going too far? That may entail arguing balls and strikes. Or perhaps the frequency of eye examinations. But when the line is crossed, umps will ask the manager to leave the field, and the dugout.
Weaver was ejected 98 times in his career. His antics following ejections are wonderful to watch. He often tapped the bill of the umpire’s hat with his own, like magpies dueling. He would then reverse the bill, and continue the argument. Eyes bulging, face beat-red, he would scream for justice. He often kicked dirt at the umpire, to help his position. He was even ejected from both games of a double-header.
John McGraw holds the record in the National League with 131 ejections. He heard “You are outta here!” more than “Would you like cream in your coffee, Sir?” Then again, he did manage almost twice as many games as did Weaver, mostly with the New York Giants.
“Sweet Lou” Piniella played with passion, and managed the same way. We saw him play many times at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto against the Jays. He was then in Yankee pinstripes. On one particular occasion, he seemed out of sorts. He argued with some fans near home plate when he was on deck. He snarled and grumbled at every called strike. Finally, when he whiffed near the end of the game, he had had more than enough. He quietly removed his batting helmet, placed it carefully on home plate, and began to smash it with the some motion that you use to ring the bell at the CNE. It exploded into several pieces after several serious blows.
At the end of every ball game, players enjoy a wonderful buffet laid out for them in their dressing room. Lou loved to hit, and did not like to fail. But if he struck out near the end of a game, he would destroy the buffet with his bat. By the time he was finished, the cold cuts were well embedded into the potato salad. Players would block his way from getting to the buffet, if they could.
He also loved chocolate cake. Sparky Lyle had a distinguished career with the Yankees as a reliever, and a prankster. He chronicled the following tale about Piniella in his book’ “The Bronx Zoo”. There was a fan in New York who baked the best chocolate cake in the world. It was Lou’s birthday, and she baked him a winner. It sat, front and centre in the dressing room before the game. “Happy Birthday Lou”.
Lyle formed a posse, and executed his plan. After the game, Lou rushed into the dressing room for his cake. Lyle’s accomplices grabbed him, and taped him to a pole---so that he could see the cake. With great fanfare, Lyle dropped his drawers and sat on the cake. Imagine Lou’s discomfort!
There is plenty of video of Lou kicking his hat around following ejections as a manager. He even fought with one of his own players, Rob Dibble, in the dressing room when he managed the Cincinnati Reds. He removed first base and threw it into the outfield. He was worth the price of admission.
Phil Garner, the manager of the Houston Astros, recently recalled the tantrum of one of his former managers, Alvin “Blackie” Dark. Dark was a little long in the tooth at the time, but still feisty. Dark removed the base, and ran with it in the field, on bad knees and ageing legs. The umpire followed him in hot pursuit. Dark finally hurled the base into the crowd.
Billy Martin was fired and hired more times than any other manager, by one owner, George Steinbrenner. He was feisty, and could inspire his team with his tirades. He was an excellent dirt kicker, and sometimes threw handfuls at the umps.
Hal McCrae played for the Kansas City Royals for many years, and managed them following his playing days. After every game, managers are required to submit to an interview process by the media. There are often asked very dumb questions. After one particularly bitter loss, McCrae addressed the media and mentioned that, in one situation, he wanted a particular left-handed hitter. A reporter then asked: “Did you consider using Brett for Miller with the bases loaded in the seventh?”
That precipitated one of the classic manager meltdowns in the history of the game. Video of the episode is well beeped, but McCrae manages to get across his point by clearing the room---of microphones, tape players, reporters, and television cameras. That signaled the end of his managerial career.
This entire discussion was initiated as a result of a classic performance of a minor league manager from Asheville, North Carolina. Joe Mikulik lost it in a recent game, and went through the entire gamut: removing bases, throwing bats, kicking dirt, and even pouring water from a water bottle on home plate so that the umpire could see it more clearly.
Ah, the great game of baseball!
Check out the videos at foxsports.com/bestdamn, and scroll down to a photo of “Sweet Lou” screaming at someone. There are 50 videos of various sports personalities in these meltdown situations. This is not strictly a baseball phenomenon. Ask Don Cherry!