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Art of an argument

Managers and umps don't go at it over a disputed call like they used to.

By JOHN ROMANO
Published May 30, 2007


Any day now, a ballgame will be interrupted by an elderly man in a bad mood. He will rant, sputter and curse. And, insult willing, he'll make baseball history.

Goodness, what an accomplishment. Without much fanfare at all, Bobby Cox has out-argued Billy Martin, out-profaned Earl Weaver and out-annoyed Tommy Lasorda.

The Braves manager is one meltdown away from tying John McGraw's 75-year-old record for most ejections in a baseball career of 131.

Yup, some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some are just great at ticking others off.

It is a skill, like any other. A calling, if you will. An ability to infuriate men who consider verbal abuse to be an occupational hazard.

And, I fear, it may also be a dying art. As much as Cox still manages to get himself in trouble with umpires, the game seems to have lost some of the classic back-and-forth between managers and the men in blue.

Maybe it's because, these days, the game is so much more corporate. Maybe it's because umpires are leery of the Questec video monitoring system. Maybe it's because umps are no longer split between the American and National Leagues, which means they're spread among 30 teams instead of 14 or 16.

Or maybe I'm just romanticizing arguments of old.

Whatever it is, I miss stories like the one Don Zimmer told the other day about him and umpire John Shulock during a game in Texas some 30 years ago.

"We're in each other's face. And when you're chewing tobacco, you can spit on somebody, " Zimmer said. "So I took my chew out and threw it on the ground. He took his out and fired it on the ground to mock me.

"The only problem is when I got back to the dugout, I realized I had pulled my teeth out with the tobacco and threw them in the grass. I had to go back and get my plate. Buddy Bell was at first base and, oh, was he laughing about it."

There are plenty of reasons to argue with an umpire, and very few have to do with trying to get a call overturned.

Sometimes, a manager will take a bullet to keep his player from getting ejected. Other managers believe it might occasionally ignite a stagnant team.

There are those who believe a passionate argument one day might help you on a close call the next day. And, sometimes, a manager is just genuinely peeved.

But for every Bobby Cox, there is a Jim Leyland. As gruff and old-school as the Tigers manager appears, he rarely argues and hardly ever gets tossed.

"If I have to go argue with an umpire to get my players pumped up, then I need to go do something else, " Leyland said. "I might go out for cosmetic purposes every once in a while if a player is adamant, but to me, arguing about a safe call at first base is just a waste of time."

No matter the reason behind an argument, there is a certain etiquette that must be followed.

Never make it a personal attack. Argue the call, not the person. It is also important to not appear to be embarrassing an umpire.

In one of Cox's recent ejections, he kept pointing to the foul line to make his point. The umpire told him to stop pointing. Cox did it again and got tossed.

This was the kind of lesson Rays manager Joe Maddon learned as a young manager at Class A Salem (Ore.) in the early 1980s.

"I got kicked out of seven games in a 70-game season. I would call umpires all kinds of names, and then I'd go out the next day with the lineup card and say, 'Listen, I'm sorry for what I said. I'm not sorry for arguing, but I'm sorry for how I argued, ' " Maddon said. "As I got more experience, I learned to argue without getting so personal."

Players and managers should also know that umpires talk amongst themselves. They know the troublemakers, and those people get a shorter leash.

Richie Garcia, who worked the American League for more than 25 years and is now an umpire supervisor, says the first manager he ever ejected was Martin.

"All he said to me was, 'You're full of (expletive), ' and he was gone, " Garcia said. "He said, 'You can't run me for that.' I said, 'I don't know who the (heck) you are.' Unbeknownst to him, he was my favorite player when I was a kid. But you have to show a manager right away what kind of personality you have. Now later on, I let him say a lot worse to me, but we knew each other then."

The reality that players and managers must eventually grasp is that the umpires always win. Right or wrong, certain or doubtful, the umpire always wins.

"I've gone out there trying to get kicked out and an umpire will say, 'It's (flipping) hot out here, and if I have to stay, you are too, ' " said Jim Fregosi, who managed 15 seasons with four teams.

"But the worst one is when you go out there and the umpire says, 'Boy I (messed) that one up, didn't I?' Then you have to walk all the way back. I mean, what do you say after that?"

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

Fast Facts:

You're outta here ... again!

Managers with the most ejections:

Manager Yrs. Tot.

John McGraw 33 131

Bobby Cox 26 130

Leo Durocher 24 124

Earl Weaver 17 97

Frankie Frisch 16 86