Managers and players like to have their say, but if they tread on the "magic words" or bump the ump, they'll be outta here.
By TOM JONES
Published June 17, 2003
[Times file photo]
Lou Piniella has been ejected 52 times as a manager: "You can argue with an umpire and be civil, but there's a fine line and, well, occasionally, that fine line is crossed."
Richie Garcia is about to be in a fight.
He stands motionless and watches a raving lunatic running straight at him. Quickly he collects his thoughts, takes a deep breath and prepares himself. In a matter of moments, before 40,000 pairs of eyes, it will be on.
He will be screamed at, cursed on and spit upon. He will have dirt kicked on his shoes, a finger pointed in his eyes and some of the foulest words one can imagine shouted in his face.
He will try to fight back - calmly, peacefully. Forget it. His opponent is out of control now. Garcia's eyesight is questioned. His intelligence is insulted. For goodness' sake, his mother is being degraded.
Finally Garcia has nothing left but his trump card, his knockout punch:
YOU'RE OUTTA HERE!
"Sometimes, it's the only thing they'll understand," Garcia said.
This scene has been played thousands of times in baseball history. It's the baseball argument. The umpire, in this case, is former big-league ump Richie Garcia. The madman is a manager, or a player, or a coach. Often it ends with those three words.
In baseball, the ejection is like sending a kid to the corner, or throwing a drunk in the tank overnight to sleep it off. But how does one get from a peaceful afternoon at America's gentle pastime to a scene from Jerry Springer?
What does it take, exactly, to get kicked out of a baseball game?
"You can argue with an umpire and be civil, but there's a fine line and, well, occasionally, that fine line is crossed," said Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, who has been ejected 52 times as a manager. "Let's put it this way: Right before you get kicked out, you know you're about to get kicked out."
It might be a slight bump to the umpire's chest. It might be waving your arms in the air to embarrass the man in blue. Usually, though, it's something little: a four-letter word.
Baseball calls them "magic words." Think of the last word you would ever expect to hear on Sesame Street and you'll get the picture.
"If the word "you' is involved, there's a good chance you'll get run," Garcia said.
Lee Elia, the Rays batting coach and former Cubs manager, said: "You can say, "That's a bleepity-bleep call.' You can't say, "That's a bleepity-bleep call, you bleepity-bleep."
Sometimes - not always - the arguments are a result of a questionable call turned into the crime of the century by a manager fighting for victories in a pennant race. Sometimes it comes at the end of a bad day of a bad month of a season gone bad, and the manager simply snaps. Sometimes it starts off as an innocent question and turns into bedlam.
Take the time Piniella went out to argue a call while managing the Mariners a few years ago.
"The umpire," Piniella said, "told me, "What are you doing out here? You think I'm having a bad day? You should've taken your starting pitcher out two innings ago. You're having a bad day managing.'
"Needless to say, I got kicked out that day."
That's an unusual case. Normally an umpire won't provoke a fight or make it personal. He'll stand up for himself and curse back if cursed at. Usually, though, he'll let the manager or player have his say.
"Sometimes an umpire will let you go a little longer if he knows he was wrong," Elia said.
"If the call was bad enough and he knows it," former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi said, "you can pretty much get away with anything."
Every umpire is different, of course. Some have short fuses. Others enjoy a good argument. What might offend one umpire doesn't offend another. As umpires get older, Elia said, they tend to become more tolerant.
Garcia said he used to be brought to tears by arguments when he was a rookie ump. By the time he was a seasoned veteran, "I would get fired up and tell guys, "Hey, not today, man. I ain't taking no (expletive) from you today.' "
Truth be told, umpires don't enjoy kicking out a manager or player even when they know they're right. They would rather have a peaceful solution, and, if possible, a little comedy.
"When (Piniella) was with Seattle, we had a play in Baltimore at second base," Garcia said. "He came out. He said, "You missed that play.' I said, "No, I didn't.' He said, "I'll bet you a dozen deviled crabs when we go back to Tampa.' I said, "You got it.' The next day we had both seen the videotape, and here he comes out of the dugout to give us the lineups. As soon as he was on the field, I said, "You owe me a dozen deviled crabs.' Lou said, "I know, I know.' "
Sometimes a funny line will break up a tense argument. Like, "Hey, if you missed as many meals as you did calls, you would be invisible."
"If a guy cracked me up, I wouldn't run him," Garcia said.
Some managers, though, leave umpires no choice. Garcia, now an umpire supervisor, said legendary madmen such as Baltimore manager Earl Weaver and Yankees manager Billy Martin would get kicked out almost immediately.
"Those guys would go overboard with the first two words out of their mouths," Garcia said.
Others, such as Piniella, start out calm and then blow a gasket, doing things - covering home plate with dirt, ripping out bases, throwing a pile of bats on the field - that, later, they can't believe they did.
Occasionally, though, these sudden bursts of obscenities and tirades are not the result of a spur-of-the-moment argument. And they're often not the result of a personal grudge or animosity toward a particular umpire. Most managers and umpires agree that once a fight is over, it's forgotten.
But sometimes a manager actually wants to be ejected.
"You get kicked out to show the players that you care," Fregosi said. "Or you're protecting a player. You're trying to get your point across to an umpire. You're trying to shake up your club. Most of the time, you know you're going to get kicked out before you even leave the dugout."
That, though, doesn't always work. When Elia was managing in the mid 1980s, his Cubs were playing the Expos in a four-game series. After getting clobbered three straight games, Elia told home plate umpire Frank Pulli before the last game that he wanted to be kicked out that afternoon. Pulli laughed and said no problem.
Once again the Cubs were getting pounded, and there was a close call at the plate that went against Elia's Cubs in the fourth inning.
"I said, "You know what? This might be the time,' " Elia said. "So I gave my coach the lineup card and said, "Here, you got the club, I'm outta here.' "
Elia argued the call, but Pulli didn't say a word.
"So I got in his face," Elia said, "and I started to bob my head and I said, "You remember what the hell we talked about before the game?'
"And he said, "Sure.' And I said, "Well, what are you waiting for? Run me!' He looked at me and said, "If I got to watch this (expletive) for five more innings, you're going to watch it with me.' So then I laid every rotten thing I could say to a person. And he just smiled and said, "That's right, Lee. You're right. But you're still not getting kicked out of this game.' "
Elia laughs when he tells the story. And smiles about the times he actually was ejected, including his ejection last month.
"Look, baseball is big business and big money," he said. "But it's entertainment, too. The fans love it. We even enjoy it. Hey, it's a part of baseball, and a part of what makes baseball great. Who doesn't love a good argument?"
FIVE WAYS TO GET KICKED OUT OF A BASEBALL GAME1. There are certain buzzwords, also known as "magic words." Say one and you'll disappear. We can't print them here, of course, but they're the A list - the creme de la creme, so to speak - of curse words.
2. Make contact with an ump in any way, whether it's finger to cheek, chest to chest, nose to nose. If you get as close as Patrick Swayze did to Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, you'll get the rest of the day off.
3. Usually, any reference to an umpire's mom will do the trick.
4. Cardinal rule: Don't give a home plate umpire grief on a 95-degree day. Under all his gear, he's just too hot, sweaty and tired to take any guff. An ump would run his grandmother if she even blinked funny on a sweltering afternoon in St. Louis.
5. Never start a sentence with "You are a " and end it with one of the words from Item No. 1. Do that and you are ejected.